Not everyone can get away depicting a public figure — the head of a ‘spiritual group’ at that — in a multicoloured crochet two-piece. Or in a bejewelled body suit bearing the words ‘Royal Rock Star’. Or tossing aside an elephant by its legs. Or demolishing a rugby team single-handedly. These inspired images of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh are not depicted by comedian Kiku Sharda, who has been sent to 14 days’ judicial custody for mimicking the godman on a comedy show. These are scenes from the Gurmeet-starring, Gurmeet-directed, Gurmeet-written films, MSG: The Messenger and its sequel.
So why has Sharda been jailed for “outraging religious feelings”? Simply because he made fun of the godman in a comedy show, while Gurmeet and his followers are dead earnest. The irony is that in 2007, Gurmeet was accused by radical Sikh organisations for hurting religious sentiments by ‘mimicking’ Guru Gobind Singh in an ad. India’s dealings with comedy is schizophrenic.
Jokes on public figures and deities ricochet in living rooms and websites, essentially wherever the identity of those laughing is not brought to light. Once a comic take on anyone considered ‘important’ moves from this profane semi-private space to the sanctimonious public one, angry hysterics — fine material for public spectacle — tumble out to claim space in the ‘competitive outrage’ domain. Thus a petition to the Supreme Court demanding a ban on ‘Santa-Banta’ jokes, which the apex court has said it will “examine seriously”. Sharda’s arrest for making fun of Gurmeet in a comedy show is even more ludicrous. If it wasn’t a sad commentary on the extreme prickliness tolerated and encouraged in 2016 India, it would have made for extremely absurdist comedy.