New Delhi: Stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui believes he spent over one month in jail because the world today is driven by hate fuelled by “free and cheap” internet, and not because he allegedly cracked indecent jokes.
On 14 February, a week after he stepped out of prison, Faruqui released a video with a deliberately misleading title, “Munawar Faruqui Leaving Comedy”, to give his fans and himself “closure”. In the video, he spoke about how hate on social media platforms is consuming everyone and urged his audience not to engage in it.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Faruqui says, “I wanted to tell everyone about hate — political hate based on ideological differences that has engulfed everyone on the internet.”
The 29-year-old was arrested on 1 January for allegedly passing “indecent remarks” on Hindu deities and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. An FIR was lodged against him and four others — Prakhar Vyas, Edwin Anthony, Nalin Yadav, and Sadaqat Khan — under various IPC sections.
The complaint was filed by Eklavya Singh Gaur, son of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Malini Laxman Singh Gaur.
After weeks of legal hurdles, Faruqui was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court on 5 February. He stepped out of the Indore jail the following day amid much drama. However, two of his friends — Yadav and Khan — are still in prison.
On quitting comedy
Since his release, Faruqui says he has been trying to cope with the anxiety and trauma, but quitting comedy is “not an option” for him.
“Many have questioned me continuing doing comedy, family and friends, but how do I let it go so easily? I have worked very hard for it. Jail was a hiccup but can’t quit my passion over it,” says Faruqui.
His family had moved to Mumbai from Gujarat’s Junagadh in 2002. Faruqui climbed his way up after several small jobs — utensil sales, and small-time graphic work in Mumbai.
On time in jail
Faruqui, who loves to compose shayari (poetry) apart from stand-up comedy, is working on a new production — a rap song — from his material in jail.
Describing his jail time, he recites, “Wo samajhte hain aasaan hai mere jooton mein chalna, anjaan hain uss safar se jo maine nange paun tay kiya hai (They think it’s easy to walk in my shoes, but they don’t know the journey I made bare feet).”
In jail “one moment you are thinking something, the next moment your thoughts fly to something else — probably that’s what those walls do to you”, he says.
For the comedian, “jail time” only meant jokes from his friends — “Munawar tu jail jayega… tu marega (your jokes will lead you to jail)” — turned into a nightmarish reality. “It’s been extremely traumatic… It was filled with pain, struggle, heartache and hope. It was worse because I couldn’t cry,” he says.
He adds that the thing he missed the most during jail time was the sound of his audience laughing at his jokes.
What is a ‘safe joke’?
Amid questions on the art form in India, Faruqui believes stand-up comedy and other art forms shouldn’t hurt others’ sentiments, but asks who decides what a “safe joke” is.
“Freedom of speech and expression doesn’t mean we hurt people. I never had any intention of hurting anyone,” he says.
Asked what safe jokes are, Faruqui says, “Jokes are safe which is why they are called jokes. But again who decides if a joke is offensive? Who is setting the benchmark?”
He adds, “Since the internet became free and cheap, political hate followed by religious hate has corrupted us all. People judge on the comment section and some take offence without listening. This (is) herd mentality.”
Asked if he will raise his voice for others after his ordeal, Faruqui says, “I put my message through comedy and content.”
On 15 February, just after climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested on sedition charges, Faruqui posted on Instagram, “Desh sahi Disha mai nahi jaa raha (The country is not moving in the right direction)”.