Comedy Under ‘crosshairs’ in India

India often boasts itself as ‘world’s largest democracy’ and this ‘fabricated’ narrative has been so overwhelmingly propagated that the world actually believed it. However, India’s secularism has been proved as nothing but a calculated ‘mirage’ of lies and deceit which was interpreted as a ‘truth’ by both the West as well as Pakistanis who had interpreted India’s democracy as ‘superior’ in contrast to Pakistan’s domestic political turmoil and volatile democratic system. Nevertheless, India’s façade of democracy has been left exposed for the world to see.
India is a country where exploitation, religious polarization, hate speech and anti-Pakistan propaganda are essentially the ‘primary tools’ for winning an election – all of which practically negate and contradict basic principles of democracy; hence terming India’s political system as a ‘democracy’ is nothing but an act of self-deception. The state of affairs of India’s ‘democracy’ is best reflected by the headlines of Indian publication National Herald which read ‘Republic Day without a Republic’.
India can only be termed as a democratic country if the term ‘democratic’ translated to the ‘continuation and holding of elections and electoral process’; however, democracy is nothing but a façade in the absence of religious freedom, freedom of speech and expression and provision of basic human rights. Today social rights and freedom have been subjected to draconian restrictions as religious freedom along with freedom of speech, the expression has been neutralized by the prevailing Hindutva ideology. May it be COVID-19 or Sikh farmers’ movement, the Indian government has utilized every possible means and resource to suppress public dissent.
Vinod K. Jose – Executive Editor of ‘The Caravan’, an Indian investigative magazine; is a victim of this prevailing rhetoric and ideology in India. Vinod was left appalled when he logged in on his Twitter account on February 1st and came to know that his magazine’s official Twitter account has been blocked. It is pertinent to know that Mr Vinod has already been falsely accused in several sedition cases. The reason for Mr Vinod and his magazine being targeted by Indian government lies in their support for the farmers who have been protesting against the Indian government’s agricultural policies.
Indian authorities have tried their utmost to prevent the propagation and circulation of physical violence and brutal force on mainstream and social media, used against protesting farmers who have marched towards Delhi from all across India against Narendra Modi’s agricultural policies. Journalists have been barred from covering farmers’ protests and relevant stories.
BJP’s fascist government staged protests and demonstrations against media and journalists through party goons. This was then followed by the suspension of Twitter accounts that propagated truth regarding the ongoing farmers’ protests.
Soon hundreds of Twitter accounts belonging to activists and farmers’ unions, along with several news websites, were suspended as part of the government’s plan to suppress freedom of speech and expression. Furthermore, at least nine ‘offline’ journalists are facing legal proceedings for the sole crime of covering farmers’ protests.
Ministers belonging to the ruling BJP have blamed media, journalists and opposition for the current situation, contending that the latter propagated ‘unconfirmed’ and ‘untrue’ ground realities which essentially had an adverse effect on national unity and integrity. Individuals falsely accused under fabricated charges face up to 15 years of imprisonment if convicted.
Charges of ‘sedition’ for simply utilizing the freedom of expression are nothing new in India, however; under the Modi government, the misuse of legal incentives have reached a new height. During Narendra Modi’s rule, there has been an appalling surge in sedition cases by 30 %. Several international human rights organizations, watchdogs and organizations related to journalism have repeatedly condemned Indian government over its actions – which in fact has been unfazed by international condemnation altogether.
Analysts and political commentators have warned that intolerance in India has witnessed a significant increase under Narendra Modi which has resulted in continuous degrading of India’s ranking on free journalism index as India was listed at 142 out of 180 countries in 2020 last year. According to Reporters Without Borders’, the pressure from the police and Hindu nationalists on media to support government narrative is the primary cause of India’s decline in journalism rankings.
The pressure to propagate government narrative is not limited to media alone. Bollywood superstars have also been subjected to such nefarious political pressure and have essentially become a puppet of Modi regime. Recently world-renowned American singer, celebrity Rihanna and Greta Thunberg– internationally acclaimed environmental activist, took to social media to voice their support for the protesting farmers. The international support for protesting farmers was not ‘well-received’ by Indians who in fact were enraged for simply being told the ‘harsh’ truth.
International condemnation was refuted by India’s Ministry of External Affairs as expected. However, celebrities including veteran singer Lata Mangeshkar and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar also ‘chipped in’ in condemning the international criticism. The ‘astonishing’ similarity between the Indian government’s and celebrities’ statements are an evident example of the façade of freedom of expression and speech.
Following extensive censorship on media, ‘comedy’ to has been the victim of India’s fascist government. Illegal and unconstitutional detention of Muslim standup comedian Munawar Faruqui under false and fabricated charges is a testament to religious discrimination. Mr Faruqui – a young standup comedian, who uses satire to address social, religious and political issues; was charged under false accusations of insulting Hindu deities. The accusations were followed by his illegal detention, and bail after a period of 35 days.
Commenting on the mistreatment and discrimination, Munawar Faruqui has stated that the police didn’t even care to investigate the accusations filed against him let alone finding any ‘evidence’.
In a country where religious, political and social intolerance is compounded by forceful suppression of dissent; fields of art, politics, journalism along with intellectuals and academics are significantly discouraged and are faced by lack of growth. India too has been subjected to such dynamics where pro-peace and true patriotic academics, journalists, intellectuals are living in fear and doubts in face of Modi’s fascism and far-right draconian policies.