Vir Das
Vir Das’ stand up act 'I come from two Indias' mirrors the polarity of the monologue and has led to a fierce debate in India Image Credit: Supplied

I come from two India’s. One where a comedian who points out the obvious dualities and complexities of the country is slapped with police cases. And the other, where a self proclaimed “nationalist” actor likens India’s hard fought independence to “begging”, uses derogatory language about Mahatma Gandhi and is the recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honour.

But police action is not warranted in either case. People should not be arrested for comedy acts or just plain stupidity.

The hysterical reactions to comedian Vir Das’s stand up act in the US a few days ago has only underlined that the world’s largest democracy is also insecure.

For two straight days now, Das has been trending at number one on Twitter and is the lead discussion on prime time TV as the right wing fulminates over his act, where he spoke about everything from violence against women to farmer protests, while many others have come out in strong support.

Indeed, Das received huge applause from the audience he was addressing at the Kennedy centre in Washington DC. Spare me the argument that he “maligned” India on foreign soil. India’s image is not maligned by a stand up comic who pointed out some harsh realities about the nation we live in.

Our image is maligned by those who rape women, by those who assault minorities and people from socially backward castes, by rampant Islamophobia, by states that jail journalists for sedition and courts that deny bail for years, by the incompetent handling of the toxic smog that has engulfed north India, by people dying because they didn’t get oxygen during the last Covid wave and so much more.

Not unique to india

It is also true that these complexities are not unique to india. Almost every country has issues. The US is still dealing with deep rooted racism and shootings that kill scores of people each year. Their stand up comics hold forth on this all the time. But has anyone been arrested there? Hand to heart - is there anything Vir Das said in that video about India that isn’t true?

There is actually nothing remarkable about what he said at all. Why are we so afraid to face the reality of our imperfect country? All nations are imperfect. Does it make us any less proud to be Indian and any less patriotic?

As for Kangana Ranaut, she’s desperately seeking attention and maybe a ticket to parliament. I find her views repulsive but I don’t believe she should be arrested for them. I don’t think she deserves the nation’s highest civilian award either.

Someone, somewhere in India is always offended by something. We are a nation in a permanent state of offence. Movie halls are stormed, film sets are vandalised, court cases are filed all because of this non stop outrage factory.

Perhaps Vir Das knew what was coming. In his stand up act, he said “I come from an india that will accuse me of airing their dirty laundry and yet I come from an india that wears their heart on their sleeve … I come from an india that is going to watch this and say this isn’t stand up comedy, where is the goddam joke and yet I come from an India that will watch this and know that there is a gigantic joke, it just isn’t funny.