New Delhi: The case against Munawar Faruqui, the comedian who was arrested for allegedly making objectionable remarks against Hindu deities a fortnight ago, took a Kafkaesque turn when the Indore police insisted that his bail plea should be rejected and, in the same breath, told the court that it had no evidence regarding the allegations against him.
At Faruqui’s bail hearing before the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court on Friday, the Indore police failed to produce the case diary and added that it had no evidence whatsoever to back the allegations made against the comedian and five others who have been arrested in the same case.
All six – Faruqui, Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas, Edwin Anthony, Sadakat Khan – were arrested on January 1, 2020, at a show in Indore on a complaint by Eklavya Gaud, the son of BJP MLA Malini Gaud, who thought Faruqui and his teammates made objectionable remarks against Hindu deities and “hurt religious sentiment”.
Ever since the incident shot into the limelight, many observers have already pointed out the arbitrary nature of all the arrests made in the case. “Of the six, one is the brother of the show’s organiser who was in the audience, another a friend of Faruqui’s who had nothing to do with the event, and a third whose only family is a minor brother running around for him now,” Indian Express reported.
The 24-year-old Prakhar had contacted Faruqui for the show. Faruqui, who had flown down from Mumbai, was supposed to do the main act while Prakhar and Yadav, both upcoming comedians, were to do short opening acts. Priyam, Prakhar’s younger brother, was only attending the show. Sadakat had come to meet Faruqui in custody when he was arrested too.
“Not much is known about Anthony, the first accused in the case”, the daily reported, except that he is an Indore resident and was the “event coordinator” for the show.
At the Indore sessions court hearing on January 6, the Tukoganj station police objected to Prakhar and Priyam’s bail pleas, saying Prakhar had made all the arrangements for the show. The Indore sessions court had then rejected all bail petitions of those arrested. A judicial magistrate first class on January 13 had extended the judicial custody of all the accused except Sadakat for another two weeks.
The bail plea at the high court on Friday was adjourned because of the “non-availability of the case diary” and will be taken up early next week when the police are expected to produce the case diary.
Even as the police failed to produce a case diary, it has been insisting that all of them should be kept in custody to prevent possible “law and order problems” in Ujjain and Indore. Faruqui has been booked under Sections 295A (outraging religious feelings) and 269 (unlawful or negligent act likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code, among other charges.
Faruqui and Yadav’s lawyer, Anshuman Shrivastav, told the Indian Express that senior Supreme Court lawyer and Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha appeared on behalf of the bail applicants and that he requested the court to reschedule the hearing for later in the day as the Tukoganj Police Station (where the case is registered) is across the road from the high court premises, and the police could have been asked to get the diary.
“However, it (the hearing) was adjourned,” he said, adding that such requests of adjournments by the police were tactics to harass his clients.
“The criminal law does not work on assumptions, but their bail has been denied on an assumption that it will lead to law and order problems and not on any technical or legal grounds,” Shrivastav said.
He said the FIR filed by Gaud, also the convenor of Hindu Rakshak Sanghatan, had not specified the comments allegedly made by Faruqui, and insisted that at least the police could have verified the claims before making the arrests. He added that alleged remarks by Faruqui against home minister Amit Shah and on Godhra riots were based on a video shot about four years ago, and not from the Indore show.
The 17-year-old Nalin’s younger brother said Nalin hadn’t even presented his act at the Indore show when he was arrested. “When I went to visit Nalin in jail, he was worried about my safety as there are just the two of us. He kept repeating that he did not crack any jokes on religion,” he said. The brothers lost their mother two months ago.
Faruqui’s tour manager and stand-up producer, Vishesh Arora, said Faruqui had done this particular comic routine 25 times since November 2020 and was supposed to do 20 more across different cities after Indore. He added that Faruqui has been getting threats online. A cousin of Faruqui too said that the family had been getting online threats since 2020 after he posted a comedy routine titled “Dawood, Yamraaj & Aurat”. He said Faruqui’s sisters also got rape threats.
Town Inspector of Tukoganj Police Station Kamlesh Sharma had earlier confirmed to Indian Express the police had no evidence against Faruqui directly and that he had been booked as an organiser.
“There’s no evidence against him for insulting Hindu deities or Union Minister Amit Shah,” he said. He also added that the two videos submitted by Gaud, the complainant, were of another comedian. Yet, the police have been wanting to keep all the accused in custody.