New Delhi, India – An Indian Muslim comedian spent 25 days in a Madhya Pradesh prison for jokes he did not tell an audience, but because he suspected he was “going”.
Mumbai-based Munawar Faruqui, 28, faces lawsuits in two states. In Madhya Pradesh, he was arrested during an Indore police show for allegedly insulting Hindu deities while rehearsing for a performance. In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, he is wanted by the police in another case of alleged insulting to Hindu deities as well as to the Minister of the Interior Amit Shah.
On Monday, the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court reserved its order on Faruqui’s request for bail. The court heard the comedian’s bail application after two requests were dismissed by a lower court earlier this month.
This bail hearing for Munawar Faruqui lasted less than 15 minutes.
For a joke he has NOT cracked Indore, for an FIR that CANNOT claim he made the joke, for a case for which there is no electronic proof.
– Aishwarya S Iyer (@iyersaishwarya) 25 January 2021
Both states are ruled by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, of which Shah is a member and which also controls the federal government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I was going to make anti-Hindu jokes
On the night of January 1, Faruqui was heckled by Hindu vigilantes and forced to stop his performance at the Monroe cafe in Indore after members of a little-known Hindu group called Hind Rakshak Sangathan alleged he had insulted Hindu gods.
Faruqui and four others – Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas and Edwin Anthony – were manhandled and turned over to the police.
Sadakat Khan, a friend of Faruqui who was not mentioned as one of the accused, was arrested the next day for co-hosting the humorous event.
Sure #MunawarFaruqi I do, I’m screaming inside.
I cry out at the judge’s apathy, at the inappropriate arguments of the state and other opponents.
I’m screaming because it’s as absurd as it gets. Judge didn’t even hear Munawar’s arguments from what I hear
– Anas Tanwir (BookRate Lawyer) (@Vakeel_Sb) 25 January 2021
After their bail requests were twice rejected by a lower court, Faruqui’s lawyer was transferred to the High Court, where the hearing scheduled for January 15 had to be adjourned because police in Indore did not submit the diary of the case.
Police were dragging their feet, Faruqui’s lawyer Anshuman Srivastava told Al Jazeera.
Indore police initially claimed that “objectionable comments” were made against Hindu deities during the comedy. The city’s police commissioner, Vijay Khatri, released a statement, saying they had “sufficient evidence” against Faruqui and others arrested.
Last week, however, Khatri told Article 14, an Indian news site, that Faruqui had not made any jokes in a show but was “going.”
Indore police did not respond to Al Jazeera’s phone calls and emails requesting its response to allegations that Faruqui had been arrested for a crime he “intended to commit”.
Faruqui’s attorney, Srivastava, told Al Jazeera that the police had not produced any evidence in court showing the comedian had violated the laws by “deliberately intending to scandalize religious sentiments.”
“A hypothetical allegation was made by the plaintiff and simply on the basis of the presumption that the police registered an offense,” Srivastava said, accusing the police of registering the complaint due to “political pressure”.
The complainant, Eklavya Singh Gaur, is the son of a BJP lawmaker and a former minister in the government of Madhya Pradesh. Gaur is also the organizer of the Hindu vigilante group that heckled and interrupted the event.
“The BJP plays no role in it. The case was closed at the individual level. You cannot say that there is political pressure or influence. The court will make a decision based on arguments, ”Rajneesh Agrawal, secretary of state for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, told Al Jazeera.
On accusations of targeting a Muslim comedian for his political comments, Agrawal said the allegations are baseless and that the BJP government in the state “has watched over the welfare of Muslims.”
In the case against Faruqui in Uttar Pradesh, lawyer Ashutosh Mishra cited one of the comedian’s stand-up videos, saying that Faruqui implied in it that Home Secretary Shah had incited religious violence. in the state of Gujarat in 2002, in which more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed. Shah was the interior minister of Gujarat at the time, while Modi was the chief minister.
“Ever since Amit Shah’s name is implicated, this political drama has taken place in Indore. How can they learn about comments made about a politician from any party? Srivastava asked.
Mishra’s complaint against Faruqui also mentions another video, alleging he was making fun of Hindu gods.
The threatened comic strip
Over the past few years, several Indian comics have faced police cases or threats from the mob for allegedly harming religious or other sentiments, with many claiming the pattern indicates the narrowing of freedom of movement. expression in the country.
In December, the great comedian Kunal Kamra and the young cartoonist Rachita Taneja received notices of justification by the Supreme Court in response to complaints alleging contempt of the Supreme Court.
Taneja’s comic, called Sanitary Panels, hinted that the court was hand in hand with the ruling BJP, while Kamra’s tweets called it “the most supreme joke in the land.” He also shared an image of the courtyard building painted in saffron – the color the BJP is identified with – with a party flag in the foreground.
Munawar Faruqui is still in detention for “jokes” he never told and imaginary crimes. It’s been a week now.
Why is his deposit constantly refused? Because he is a Muslim.
– do hot takes (@awryaditi) January 8, 2021
It is not uncommon for comedians to feel pressured to cancel shows or go into hiding because of threats from religious or political groups.
In July last year Agrima Joshua, a comedian from Bombay, was the target of threats of rape and violence. The 2019 video for which she was attacked and charged with a case showed her telling jokes about the plans of the Maharashtra state government to build a massive statue of Shivaji, a 17th century warrior king.
Joshua was forced to apologize via a video on social media.
“They want to create a show. It becomes a source of pride for them. It’s also to show you that you don’t belong in this country if you don’t match their ideology… and now Munawar is an example, ”Joshua told Al Jazeera.
Radhika Vaz, another female comic, has been harassed and harassed for defending Joshua on national news channels. Old videos in which she referred to Karwa Chauth, a Hindu festival where women quickly watch for their husbands have been unearthed as examples of her mockery of Hindu culture.
Vaz’s claim that she was actually referring to “how we put men first” didn’t help much.
“They create this otherness because there is no other way to do it. My last name is a Christian last name and it’s easier for them to say, oh, she doesn’t like Hindu culture, ”Vaz told Al Jazeera.
In the same month, right-wing trolls attacked several other comedians, accusing the comedy industry of being “Hindu-hobic”.
You can’t stop the jokes and the laughter. Not because the actors play it, but because people need to laugh. The more you try, the more you’ll be laughed at, now, and by the story.
Anyone who has ever tried to control humor now has a category of jokes dedicated to it.
– Vir Das (@thevirdas) January 3, 2021
Like Vaz, several comedians, including Vir Das, Rohan Joshi and Kaneez Surka, have been subjected to abuse and harassment during their past performances, forcing many to apologize.
‘Muslim first and last name’
However, most popular comedians avoid political satire or commentary on religious groups, often for fear of losing right-wing fans or arousing their anger.
Faruqui, although relatively new to the Indian comedy scene, instead chose to comment on Prime Minister Modi, his government, the BJP and his ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who aims to make India a Hindu state. .
Faruqui’s performances included jokes about religious riots, the controversial citizenship law passed in 2019, police brutality against students, and the ongoing farmer protest – among others – topics considered “sensitive” in the country. .
Even though the comedian remains behind bars, the comedy industry and the political opposition have largely chosen to remain silent on the issue.
“There are comics that say all kinds of stupid things that aren’t in jail. Yes, we can be threatened or trolled, but this only happens because he [Munawar] has a Muslim first and last name, ”Vaz said.