The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday rejected the bail plea of stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, reported Bar and Bench. The court concluded that there was prima facie evidence to suggest that Faruqui had intended to outrage religious feelings “under the garb of stand-up comedy”.

Faruqui has been in jail since January 1 for allegedly making derogatory jokes on Hindu deities, even though the police have said there was no electronic evidence and that the complaint was filed based on hearsay.

Justice Rohit Arya, who pronounced the judgement after reserving orders on January 25, concluded that “regard being had to the material seized and the statements of the witnesses and that the investigation is in progress, no case is made out for grant of bail”.

“The evidence/material collected so far, suggest that in an organised public show under the garb of standup comedy at a public place on commercial lines, prima facie; scurrilous, disparaging utterances, outraging religious feelings of a class of citizens of India with deliberate intendment, were made by the applicant,” the judge said.

The judge added that there was “a Constitutional duty on every citizen and the State to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood” irrespective of their religious, linguistic, sectional and regional diversities. “Every [Fundamental] right is coupled with duty,” he said. “Liberty of an individual has to be balanced with his duties and obligations towards his fellow citizens.”

The court further rejected the submissions, made on behalf of Faruqui, that he did not even make the derogatory joke he was being accused of. The judge said that in view of the complaint, the witnesses in the case and video footage seized of the show, Faruqui’s submissions cannot be accepted.

“At this stage it is difficult to countenance to the submissions of the learned counsel for the applicant as complacency of the applicant cannot be ruled out, besides vulnerability of his acts in public domain. It is not a case of no evidence,” the High Court added.

Justice Arya then dismissed the bail application after observing that the investigation was still in progress, and the possibility that “more incriminating material may be collected” regarding the involvement of others cannot be ruled out.

“Further, it has come on record that similar nature of offence has been registered against the applicant at Police Station Georgetown, Prayagraj, State of Uttar Pradesh,” the court added, referring to the Uttar Pradesh Police’s recent move to seek Faruqui’s custody for statements allegedly made by him in May 2020.

What happened

Faruqui had been arrested from a cafe in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city on January 1 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments during a programme, and has since been in custody. He was arrested on the basis of a complaint by Eklavya Singh Gaur, chief of Hindutva group Hind Rakshak Sangathan. Gaur is the son of Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Malini Gaur.

On January 4, two days after his arrest, the Indore Police had said that there was no visual evidence to show that Faruqui had insulted Hindu deities. Along with Faruqui, four others – Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Edwin Anthony and Priyam Vyas – were also arrested on similar charges. A day later, Faruqui’s friend Sadaqat Khan was arrested for allegedly making abusive remarks about Gaur.

Earlier this month, Indore Superintendent of Police Vijay Khatri had said that Faruqui had not made any jokes about Hindu deities, or even begun his performance and he was arrested on the basis of a Gaur’s claims that he had overheard jokes during rehearsal.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the bail pleas of Faruqui and others have been rejected two other times, stating that their release would disrupt law and order. On January 13, Khan’s bail plea was also rejected citing similar grounds. On January 16, Faruqui’s bail plea was deferred as the police failed to produce the case diary.