A joint initiative of the global Indian diaspora on Tuesday said that a group of South Asian American stand-up comedians will perform a virtual comedy show on February 6 to show their solidarity with jailed Indian comedian Munawar Faruqui.

Faruqui was arrested for allegedly insulting Hindu deities during a show, despite the police admitting they have no evidence. The comedian remains in jail since January 1, having been denied bail thrice by the courts.

The virtual comedy show, titled “The Right to Laugh”, is being organised by Reclaiming India on Saturday at 10.30 pm. The performers will include Myesha Chowdury, Sai D, Abby Govindan, Pallavi Gunalan, Apoorva Gundeti, Masood Haque, Rishi Mahesh, Yamini Nambimadom, and Amar Risbud, according to a statement.

“United by their belief in human rights and freedom of speech, these rising comedians will showcase their talents while also calling attention to the injustice that Faruqui has been facing for the past month,” the statement said.

Reclaiming India also pointed out that that the mere suspicion that Faruqui “was going to” tell an offensive joke was enough for the Indore Police in Madhya Pradesh to arrest him. 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.

“Faruqui’s arrest is part of a longer trend of artists, activists, and religious minorities coming under attack from the Hindu right and the Hindu nationalist BJP-led government of India,” it said. “As a young, outspoken Muslim comedian, Faruqui is an obvious target for Hindu nationalist groups, who have sought to stifle any form of dissent in today’s India.”

The comedian’s arrest

On January 4, three 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.

Last month, Indore Superintendent of Police Vijay Khatri had told Article 14 that Faruqui had not made any jokes about Hindu deities, or even begun his performance. He admitted that the comedian was arrested on the basis of a Gaur’s claims that he had overheard jokes during rehearsal.

“Doesn’t really matter,” Khatri had said. “There was ruckus at the venue even before Faruqui could perform. But, we were told [by the complainants] that they [the comedians] were cracking jokes about Ram and Shiv ji [the Hindu deities] while rehearsing.”

On January 28, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had said that there was prima facie evidence to suggest that Faruqui had intended to outrage religious feelings “under the garb of stand-up comedy”. Justice Rohit Arya, who pronounced the judgement, had before this reserved the orders on the bail application and indicated that Faruqui “must not be spared”. He had also questioned Faruqui’s “mindset” behind his alleged jokes.