Why a comic in jail should have us worried about justice system


Why is Munawar Faruqui in jail? What is the foul crime he is accused of? To get a sense of this, try watching the video of Eklavya Gaur, son of a BJP MLA from Indore, climbing on to the stage and busting up a standup comedy routine by Munawar Faruqui. Instead of arresting these vigilantes who disturbed the public order — the police arrested Faruqui and his friends, charging them with several counts, including outraging religious feelings. Watch another video, of his friend Sadakat Khan, who had no role in the event and merely went to defend Faruqui. He was also beaten, by a lawyer, in front of the police, who then proceeded to arrest him too.

Amazingly enough, the Indore SP told the publication Article 14 that while the police had no proof of Faruqui saying anything insulting to Hindu deities, this didn’t matter because “he was going to say it”. These young men have been in jail for something that didn’t happen. Bail has been denied because the police neglected to bring the case diary to court. Last heard, Uttar Pradesh also wants custody, based on an older complaint.

The background is this: last April, Faruqui riffed on the song “mera piya ghar aaya, oh Ramji” saying it was incongruous given Ram’s own long absence. It wasn’t a particularly sharp joke, and nor does it sting — where is the insult, exactly, unless it is that a Muslim man dared to mention Ram at all? But that video woke up the Hindutva brotherhood, and after death threats to his mother and sister, Faruqui pulled down the video and apologised, saying that he had no intention of hurting anyone’s religion or faith. Oh, another thing, perhaps more relevant: he had also joked about a movie that mentioned the word Godhra and the name of a politician. But then again, his own home had been burnt in the 2002 riots.

Nothing in Faruqui’s routine justifies this incarceration. Free speech is not an absolute value, and decent societies do mute some speech to ensure the dignity and civic inclusion of smaller or subordinated groups. But today, that principle has been flipped — saying ‘goli maaro saalon ko’ and inciting angry crowds is a majoritarian prerogative. So we have free speech for some, and jail, harassment and violence for others.

Today, the mob and the state act in tandem, to enforce their monoculture. Mob violence is obviously not new — India has long seen crowds turn upon unlucky others, enact their horrid justice on Muslims, Sikhs, people from the north or south or northeast, Dalits, women, moral deviants, whatever the out-group in that context. Mobs draw the lines, they demonstrate who securely ‘belongs’, and who is a lesser human. Our police forces, with their colonial roots, have never been on the side of the marginalised either.

But at least this was recognised as a wrong in the past — today, the state apparatus often strengthens the mob. The mob acts, the police stands by or actively fortifies their crime. In Jamia, in JNU, in UP’s CAA protests, it was hard to tell where the mob ended and the police began. Think of those who surrounded three bloodied and prone Muslim men in northeast Delhi, forcing them to sing the national anthem — one of those men died from his injuries.

Think of the Delhi Police raiding lawyer Mahmood Pracha — armed with a search warrant, they simply confiscated his computer hard drive, with details of ongoing cases where he was defending people they had charged for communal violence. Such degradation of the investigative and legal system stands to affect us all, whether or not we have Muslim names.

This is performative law and order — meant to show us who is within the circle of protection and who is out, who will be prioritised and immunised from consequences, and who will be mercilessly persecuted. Meanwhile, Maharashtra is replicating the same eye-for-an eye logic. This erodes the entire edifice — the law is meaningful only when it at least pretends to apply equally, not on a sliding scale of power.

There are many to whom Faruqui’s fate makes sense, all these actions are instructive events as they establish a new order, purify the Hindu nation of errant particles, and so on. But officially, we are still in the first republic of India, guided by the Constitution we still have. So right now, many in the courts, public institutions and media live in a twilight zone of make-believe — saying one thing while doing and witnessing another.

Those young people whose textbooks no longer dwell on secularism or equal citizenship may not feel this mind-splitting disorientation. But right now, to borrow John Berger’s words, it feels as though our world is being systematically sprayed with ethicides, agents that kill notions of history and justice.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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