- The lineup of comics treated the audience to a wide range of topics, from the immigrant experience in America, MAGA supporters and the recent attack on the Capitol, to the staple of brown comedy — Indian American parents.
Comedian Munawar Faruqui, 30, was arrested on Jan 1 in the central Indian city of Indore, just as one of his shows ended.
Faruqui was kicking off a 14-city tour when the arrest happened.
He was accused of “insulting” Hindu religious sentiments in jokes that he had allegedly prepared, although they did not appear in his show that night.
The Muslim comedian is among many who have recently been accused under a law that protects religious beliefs.
The case against Faruqui comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faces severe criticism for stifling speech that is critical of its policies or offensive to the majority Hindu community that forms its electoral base.
The comedian was denied bail by a high court last week, sparking criticism from fellow comedians and free speech advocates who said his arrest was a misuse of the law.
Although the Supreme Court on Friday granted him ad-interim bail, Faruqi was still in jail, 30 hours after receiving bail.
Faruqui’s arrest is part of a larger trend of artists, activists, and religious minorities coming under attack from the Hindu right and the Hindu nationalist BJP-led government of India.
Recently creators of the political thriller “Tandav” on Amazon’s Prime were charged with offending religious sentiments.
In response to these undemocratic practices, the ‘Reclaiming India Coalition’ recruited nine young South Asian American comedians, united by their belief in human rights and freedom of speech, to come together and perform a virtual comedy show in solidarity with Munawar Faruqui, calling for his immediate release.
The ‘Right to Laugh’ show was emceed by poet, filmmaker, educator and performer Fatimah Asghar, who kicked off the afternoon festivities with a passionate plea for Faruqui’s release and the release of everyone unjustly imprisoned in India today. “Faruqui is one individual, but a young outspoken Muslim comedian. His case encapsulates so much of what is happening in India in recent years. We have seen rising discrimination and violence towards Muslims and other minorities, towards artists and members of the media, and towards any public figure who dares to dissent against the government. That is why we, as young South Asian Americans, are taking a stand in solidarity with Faruqui.”
The lineup of comics treated the audience to a wide range of topics, from the immigrant experience in America, MAGA supporters and the recent attack on the Capitol, to global politics, strategies for making junk food worse, and Indian social distancing, pandemic life and the staple of brown comedy — Indian American parents — with irreverence and wit.
The zingers came fast and quick. Pallavi Gunalan, got quite a chuckle as she confessed, “I quit my PhD in biomedical engineering in December of 2019 to pursue my passion of performing live standup comedy—because comedians, we have great timing!” while Apoorva Gundeti, reading her letter to the British monarchy quipped, after watching “The Crown,” “INDEPENDENCE? How dare they! How could British Cameroons reject Claire Foy as their Queen?”
Yamini Nambimadom, reminded the audience why they were all there: “Munawar got put in jail for jokes, and I can kind of relate because I got excommunicated from the family WhatsApp group when I told them I was planning to pursue comedy!”
Rishi Mahesh regaled the audience with accounts of how he wanted to not be white growing up but Mexican, as “white was far-fetched but being Mexican was a reasonable goal.”
Mahesh also got a laugh when he said, “Mexican kids were way cooler than Indian kids growing up because they could talk about stuff that kids actually like, like tacos and soccer, and I did science and math Olympiads… I understood photosynthesis way too early to be considered an ally.”
Rishi Mahesh, got quite a laugh when he told audiences what the worst part of growing up Indian was — the lack of Asian male sex symbols. “The closest thing I had to a sex symbol was Aziz Ansari….and that is a man who should not be allowed to know women,” he quipped, hinting at the recent sexual misconduct allegations against the Indian American actor.
Nineteen-year-old sophomore at Columbia University, Myesha Choudhury, who has quite a resume – being featured in Time Magazine and Huff Post among others poked fun at the lack of representation in Western media for Asian communities when she told audiences how excited her father got seeing a map of Asia on TV and pointed to it saying, “They are showing Bangladesh!”
Choudhury also made digs at growing up in Florida, “Everything you’ve heard about Florida is true. It’s a lot like One Direction Tumblr in 2015!”
Finally, Indiana-based stand-up comedian and biostatistician Sai D, wrapped up the one-hour show that livestreamed on Facebook with his unique brand of “mathematical” humor.
Sai D quipped that “Every Indian assumes that Kamala Harris will be president soon since Joe Biden is so old,” adding, “that’s just an assumption, since “Biden is 78 and next year will be 79 and in his ‘prime’!”
Poking fun at his Chennai-heritage “the same city Vice President Kamala Harris comes from,” Sai D urged Harris to cement her South Indian state status by “passing a law banning the description of dosa as a rice and lentil pancake!”
Asghar concluded the hour of brevity by reading a poem of hers “If They Should Come For Us,” and gave closing remarks connecting Faruqui’s case to the wider nexus of social and political struggles in plaguing South Asia currently.
“As South Asian people, we see the farmers’ protests that are happening, we see the occupation of Kashmir by both India and Pakistan, we see caste-based oppression throughout the entire subcontinent and extending to the diaspora, and an incredible amount of ethnic and religious-based oppression. Something that’s really important for us is to think about our role as South Asian people.”
Faruqui was finally released from the Indore city jail – coincidentally an hour after the ‘Right to Laugh’ show concluded.
Reclaiming India, is a joint initiative of the global Indian diaspora, the core members being Dalit Solidarity Forum, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, Hindus for Human Rights, India Civil Watch International, Indian American Muslim Council, and Students Against Hindutva Ideology. The Philadelphia-based Progressive India Collective also co-sponsored this event.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.