After being in police custody for 18 days, comedian Munawar Faruqui could naturally expect some relief. After all there is no proof of the allegations against him: that he has hurt religious sentiments or insulted faith, crimes under India’s penal code.
Instead, his situation seems to be getting worse. Uttar Pradesh has now dug up an old case against the comic and has submitted a production warrant in an Indore court. If the court agrees, Faruqui – rather than being granted his liberty – would simply be passed on to the custody of the Uttar Pradesh police.
The trouble started for Faruqui on January 1 as he was accosted as he was about to start his show in the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. The comic was roughed up by a mob and then taken to the police station.
The action was a self-confessed ambush: the result of careful planning by a Hindutva vigilante group called the Hind Rakshak Sangathan. The assault was led by Aklavya Singh Gaur, the chief of the organisation and son of a BJP MLA.
Ironically, the comic had not made any jokes about Hindu deities, or even begun his performance when he was arrested by the Madhya Pradesh Police along with five others. The police itself is on record admitting it had no evidence of even any alleged wrongdoing. However, rather than take action against the mob, the Madhya Pradesh Police moved in to support it, penalising Faruqui for an act he did not commit. The police were blatant about its motivations. The city’s Superintendent of Police justified the action with the fantastic argument that Faruqui was going to insult Hindu gods anyway – a unique, future tense thought crime. To wrap it up, the police officer even praised the vigilante action as “active and alert”.
If the police becoming an adjunct to the communal mob was bad enough, worse was to follow. Despite there being no prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing, courts moved to keep Faruqui in jail, with his bail plea being rejected twice. With no evidence against the comic, courts cited law and order as a reason to keep him in jail. If the police had bent to the mob, here was an instance of even worse from the judiciary. Even without any crime, a person could be kept in prison simply on the “charge” that his liberty would vitiate law and order – an almost direct link between the mob and India’s justice system.
To further underline the communal intent of this action is the fact that courts have moved swiftly to protect accused in cases of hurt sentiments where the complainants happen to be Muslim. In July 2020, TV anchor Amish Devgun was quickly provided protection from arrest by the Supreme Court for his alleged defamatory statements against Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti. Similar action was see in 2018, as the Supreme Court immediately quashed an FIR against an actor for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community.
This speedy, progressive, pro-free speech judicial action, however, is starkly missing in this case, where mobilisation has involved Hindutva groups alleging their sentiments have been hurt. The Madhya Pradesh High Court has simply ignored Faruqui’s urgent request for a hearing.
India has been hurtling down the path of Hindu majoritarianism for some time now. However, this direct targeting of an artist for simply being from a minority community – with the mob indistinguishable from the government or the judiciary – illustrates just how far India has gone down that path.