An Indian comedian has been arrested for mocking a well-known religious leader. Kiku Sharda has been sent to judicial custody for a fortnight after he apparently hurt the feelings of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's followers on the popular TV show Comedy Nights with Kapil on 27 December 2015.
"Sharda was arrested after a team of Haryana police arrived in Mumbai with the complaint against him early on Wednesday (13 January)", Mumbai police deputy commissioner M Ramkumar told the Hindustan Times. Sharda has apologised and said he was "really very, very sorry" for his words, but added that he "presented the programme on the directions of the channel and programme producers".
Sharda said: "I was given a dress, script to read and directed to act". No action has been taken against the TV channel.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, the popular TV host said: "I have a lot of respect for Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singhji. The look [on the show] wasn't deliberate; it just happened to match [the guru's looks]. We didn't plan it as a spoof on him. It's a coincidence, and it is unfortunate. I am sorry that people felt hurt".
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda organisation. According to the religious group's website, it "preaches and practices humanitarianism and selfless service to others" and has some 50 million followers around the world. Sharda's arrest has been welcomed by the group's spokesman, Aditya Insan who said: "Law is taking its own course and we hail the police action".
The arrest has been widely criticised by Sharda's fellow comedians and across the Twittersphere. "This seems like an overreaction to a comic act. This will definitely discourage new stand-up comedians," actor and funnyman Sunil Pal said.
Indian celebrities have also condemned the action in no uncertain terms. Actor Vir Das – who has over a million followers – tweeted: "I don't see our leaders getting arrested for behaving like comedians everyday", while singer Sophie Choudry said: "We have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves".