A comedian’s powerful monologue addressing some of India’s most sensitive issues including rape and farmers’ protests has split opinion in the country, with right-wing activists calling for his arrest while supporters rally to his defense.
Comedian Vir Das performed “I come from two Indias” – a speech chronicling what he perceives as the country’s dual personality – at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., on November 12. A six-minute video of the speech uploaded to YouTube Monday has garnered more than 850,000 views at the time of publishing.
“I come from an India where we worship women during the day, but gang rape them at night,” Das said in the monologue.
“I come from an India where we take pride in being vegetarian, and yet run over the farmers who grow our vegetables,” he added, referring to the deaths of at least eight people last month when a car linked to a federal minister allegedly ran over several people during a protest against controversial farm laws.
The hashtag #VirDas is trending in India, with more than 60,000 tweets as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ashutosh Dubey, a legal adviser to the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said he filed a complaint with the Mumbai police Tuesday against Das’ “inflammatory” comments.
In a post to Twitter, Dubey accused Das of “defaming and spoiling the image of India in the USA.”
Indian filmmaker Ashoke Pandit said Das “should be immediately arrested” for his comments.
“I see a terrorist in this man called #VirDas,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday, adding Das should be “tried under terror laws.”
In a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday, Das defended his monologue, adding that he “takes pride” in India.
“The video is a satire about the duality of two very separate Indias, that do different things,” he said. “Like any nation has light and dark, good and evil within it. None of this is a secret.”
Meanwhile, Das has received support from several opposition politicians, journalists, and activists.
Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker with the opposition Congress Party, said Das “spoke for millions” in a post on Twitter.
“A stand-up comedian who knows the real meaning of the term ‘stand up’ is not physical but moral,” he said.
Another Congress lawmaker, Kapil Sibal, also backed Das. “None can doubt that there are two India’s [sic]. Just that we don’t want an Indian to tell the world about it,” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “We are intolerant and hypocritical.”
In recent months, some Indian comedians have raised fears about what they say is an escalating crackdown on free speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Muslim comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested in January for allegedly making “indecent remarks” about Hindu gods, according to CNN affiliate CNN-News18. Faruqui was granted bail by the Supreme Court in February, News18 reported.
CNN’s Vedika Sud and Manveena Suri contributed reporting.