He leaves his sellout shows to standing ovations in America. But back home in India, the popular comedian Vir Das has divided opinion — fiercely.
Das, 42, closed his set at Washington’s Kennedy Center last Friday with a heartfelt reflection on the ‘two Indias’ — highlighting the country’s many paradoxes and tensions.
The reaction has underscored the country’s divisions and the sensitivity of its Hindu nationalist ruling party, whose members and supporters have reacted with fury.
Before leaving the stage, the comic told his audience he would be returning not to one India but to two very different, yet parallel, places.
“I come from an India where we worship women during the day and gang rape them at night,” Das said. “I come from an India where we take pride in being vegetarians and yet run over the farmers who grow our vegetables,” he added, referring to a deadly incident last month involving a vehicle linked to a government minister and ongoing protests against controversial agricultural reforms.
“I leave you tonight and I go back to that India. Which India am I going back to? Both of them. Which India am I proud of? One of them,” he said.
Footage of the six-minute monologue has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube as of Thursday morning, and has gone viral on social media, prompting debate across India.
As if to prove the comedian’s point, it has split public opinion and drawn an outpouring of both support and outrage.
Opposition parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor lauded the speech, saying Das reflected the thoughts of millions of Indians. “A stand-up comedian who knows the real meaning of the term ‘stand up’,” he tweeted.
Others, however, were less complimentary.
Ashutosh Dubey, a legal adviser to the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, accused Das on Twitter of “defaming” and “spoiling the image of India” and said he had filed a police complaint against him Tuesday.
“Freedom of speech has a limitation that stops when we go against national Integrity,” Dubey told NBC News on Thursday via Twitter. He said authorities in Mumbai had accepted his complaint and said they will follow up the case.
A police complaint has also been filed against the comedian in New Delhi, according to local media reports. NBC News has reached out to the police in both cities for comment.
The controversy continued as the complaints also divided opinions.
“My agreeing or [not] with Vir Das words… is irrelevant. What is condemnable, despicable & unpardonable is his being subjected to [two] complaints. He has violated no law & [should not be] harassed,” Abhishek Singhvi of the opposition Indian National Congress tweeted following Dubey’s complaint.
Addressing the response, the comedian said he was proud of his country and that his intention was to satirize its contradictions.
Addressing the “sizeable reaction” to the video in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Das said it was “a satire about the duality of two very separate Indias that do different things. Like any nation has light and dark, good and evil within it.”
NBC News has reached out to Das for comment.
The comedian’s speech comes as India grapples with the ongoing protests by farmers against three agriculture laws, enacted in September last year, which loosened rules around the sale and pricing of produce. Farmers say the laws will ruin their livelihoods and leave them open to exploitation by large companies. The government has said the laws are necessary for modernization.
It also comes amid concerns about the country’s treatment of women.
Reports of gang rapes and other cases of sexual violence have drawn global attention to the issue in recent years. In August, the alleged gang rape of a 9-year-old girl in India sparked small protests.
Online vitriol against perceived criticism is not limited to India’s own public figures, either. Earlier this year, pop star Rihanna and the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg drew fierce backlash from supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government after expressing support for the farmers.