We Deserve Better Than Hasan Minhaj’s Baity, Awkward Coverage of the NRC‑CAA
Minhaj failed to deliver on his promise to draw attention to human rights violations in India.
On Saturday, comedian Hasan Minhaj dropped a minute-long promo of the next episode of his well-loved show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. The trailer promised “#CAA + #NRC + more this Sunday on @patriotact,” which led to significant positive responses and anticipation from the Indian community, mainly due to both Minhaj’s objective, honest rendering of political events on Netflix, an international streaming platform, and lackluster or biased news coverage by Indian media.
The timing couldn’t be better — both the CAA and the NRC are grossly discriminative, bigoted legislative actions centered around the disenfranchisement and exclusion of Muslim citizens and refugees, women, Dalits, tribals and trans persons. The recent passing of the CAA bill elicited scores of protests from Indian citizens, leading to violent police backlash. While the National Register of Citizens requires Assam’s (and in the future possibly all of India’s) residents to prove their presence in India on or before March 24, 1971, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act intends to offer Indian citizenship to migrants belonging to minority religious groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, except Islam since these three countries are Islamic states. This effectively means people who fail to provide documentation for the NRC will become ‘doubtful citizens’ who can then apply for Indian citizenship through the CAA — except Muslims.
Now, Minhaj, with his Indian and Islamic roots, intelligent commentary and global goodwill, couldhavebeen key to spreading greater and international awareness of the horror unfolding in the country, if only he hadn’t completely fudged his attempt to do so. The latest episode of Patriot Act dropped on Sunday, as expected, but with the title “How America Is Causing Global Obesity.” Confusion ensured; didn’t Minhaj specifically drop a trailer that promised an episode centered around the CAA + NRC issues? Conspiracy theories about government cover-ups were floated on social media, but the truth was far from glamorous.
Related on The Swaddle:
Towards the end of the episode, Minhaj decides to take us through 2019 and its comedy show of horrors, of which a minute and thirteen seconds are dedicated to India — covering Kashmir’s internet black-out, the NRC and the CAA. This was also exactly the content he had already uploaded to his IGTV as a promotional video. Basically, we’ve been had. We wereclickbaited into believing Minhaj would drop an entire dedicated episode centered around one of the most significant developments in India’s volatile socio-political history, and then, we were delivered a minute and thirteen seconds tucked away at the tail-end of an episode on obesity, where nobody would find it.
This carelessness is particularly irritating, because Minhaj is no stranger to talking extensively about politics or India, and is currently one of the most famous faces of the Indian diaspora. He wears his family’s Aligarh origins on his sleeve in his first-ever stand-up special, Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King. In season one of the Patriot Act, he covers Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, which was later pulled down in Saudi Arabia by Netflix due to the feathers it ruffled. He even covers the Indian elections in season two, notably (painfully) calling Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor “thicc” within the segment. His fame and his credibility lent to issues like the CAA and the NRC would have helped both Indian audiences receive an unbiased, well-researched and relatable take on the issue and would have let a global audience access the issue, leading to global condemnation for large-scale human rights violations across India.
Yet, Kashmir’s internet blackout, the NRC and the CAA inspire nothing but a minute of milquetoast jokes about how the Kashmiris are missing out on Karachi-born Kumail Nanjiani’s new post-workout body, and how the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is like a nightclub bouncer keeping Muslim refugees out of India. Minhaj’s hinting at an entire upcoming episode on social media and driving up hype when NRC and CAA were trending on social media, followed by delivering the most paltry of commentaries as an afterthought in an episode about something else entirely is a tacky, irresponsible way to catch more eyeballs off a sensitive, pressing topic. Charming.
It is worth a watch, of course, but only if you care about America’s growing obesity epidemic. I’d say read the news instead, but considering recent coverage, that’s no help either.
Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.