As It Happens

Muslim comedian jailed in India over jokes he didn't even tell, says friend 

A Muslim comedian in India was arrested for insulting the Hindu religion — all before he even opened his mouth to tell a joke, says his friend and manager. 

Munawar Faruqui charged under Indian law against insulting religion or religious beliefs 

Munawar Faruqui, an Indian comedian, was arrested under India's law against insulting religion or religious beliefs. (Submitted by Vishesh Arora)

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A Muslim comedian in India was arrested for insulting the Hindu religion — all before he even opened his mouth to tell a joke, says his friend and manager. 

Munawar Faruqui is charged under Section 295A of India's penal code, which prohibits "deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."

He was arrested after a group of Hindu nationalists called Hind Rakshak Sangathan stormed his show at the Monroe cafe in Indore on Jan. 1 and cut the comedian off before he could begin his set, says tour manager Vishesh Arora.

"What happened was he got on stage and there was a mob which came to the venue and they stopped the show," Arora told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Arora says Faruqui's comedy is satirical and sometimes references politics and religion, "but he didn't do anything on that day."

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"These people just want to harass him," he said. "They know that they will lose the case after a while."

Arrest linked to 'political pressure,' says lawyer 

Four other people connected with the Jan. 1 show were arrested alongside Faruqui, reports Al Jazeera. One of Faruqui's friends was also arrested the following day and accused of being a co-organizer of the event. 

Indore police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Supt. Vijay Khatri issued a statement to Al Jazeera saying police had "enough evidence" against Faruqui and the others. 

Khatri told the Indian news site Article 14 that Faruqui hadn't yet made any jokes the night of the Jan. 1 show, but that he was "going to."

Faruqui has often ruffled feathers with his comedy, which references religion and touches on fiery political issues. He's also facing charges in Uttar Pradesh state for a comedy video in which he allegedly insulted Hindu deities and implies that Home Minister Amit Shah incited violence against Muslims, according to Al Jazeera. 

The comedian's lawyer, Anshuman Srivastava, told Al Jazeera his client is being unfairly detained on a "hypothetical allegation" due to "political pressure." As It Happens was unable to reach Srivastava for comment.

The complainant in the case has been identified as Eklavya Singh Gaur, the convenor of the Hindu group who disrupted the comedy show. He is also the son of a legislator with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The right-wing BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, which currently holds federal government as well as Madhya Pradesh state, where Faruqui was arrested. 

Muslim leaders in India say the BJP-led government has overseen a crackdown against Muslims in the country, with widespread arrests of Muslim citizens, police and vigilante violence against Muslims, a controversial citizenship bill that excludes Muslims, and the stripping of Muslim-majority Kashmir's constitutional autonomy

Supporters of India's main opposition Congress party shout slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a bill that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, in Ahmedabad, India, on Dec. 11, 2019. The placard reads: 'Save Bharat (India) from divisive BJP.' (Amit Dave/Reuters)

The BJP says it played "no role" in the case against Faruqui.

"The case was filed at an individual level. You can't say there is any political pressure or influence. Court will take a decision on the basis of arguments," Rajneesh Agrawal, BJP's state secretary in Madhya Pradesh, told Al Jazeera.

Several Muslim comedians have faced criminal charges or vigilante justice in recent years for jokes perceived as offensive to Hindus or political figures.

'This is just harassment'

Faruqui, meanwhile, has been detained for more than three weeks. His applications for bail have been rejected. 

Arora says he's been in contact with his friend and that he hasn't been physically harmed, but "mentally, he's really tortured."

"I share a great bond with him because I've been touring with him for the last three months," Arora said. "But, yeah, what can I do? Like, I just try to speak to him as many times as possible."

If convicted, Faruqui could face up to four years imprisonment. Arora doesn't think it will come to that, but says the legal system moves slowly.

"It will take, like, two, three, four months for Munawar to get out of all this. So this is just harassment," he said.

In the meantime, he says his other comedian clients are panicking. Several have cancelled their upcoming shows.

"They are worried that they'll do a show in a smaller city and they might face these challenges also," Arora said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Vishesh Arora produced by Chris Harbord.

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