Comedian Munawar Faruqui Didn’t Make Anti‑Hindu Statements, Say Police. So Why Was He Arrested in the First Place?
Comedian Munawar Faruqui made no defamatory statements against any Hindu religious figures in his stand-up performance, confirm members of the show’s audience and a police inspector from the Indore police station where the comedian was held.
Faruqui was arrested last Friday with four other (non-Muslim) comedians under Sections 295-A, 298, 269, 188 & 34 of the IPC for being part of a show where indecent remarks were made against Hindu deities. The FIR was filed by, Eklavya Gaur, is the son of Indore-4 BJP MLA Malini Gaur. According to Jenosha Agnes, an audience member of the show in question, Gaur got up on stage just as Faruqui made an entrance and spoke at length about Faruqui’s previous material hurting his religious sentiments. Faruqui responded politely, Gaur left, and the comedian proceeded with a set about a friend’s wedding. Later, a large crowd showed up along with the police, who arrested Faruqui and the others under Section 295-A, which criminalizes, “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
While other comedians were arrested alongside Faruqui, the fact that Gaur chose to target Faruqui in an on-stage rant prior to filing the FIR suggests a subtext of the charge: to target a Muslim comedian. It is the latest in a string of recent, similar instances of religious-minority comedians facing FIRs under Section 295-A, some for years-old stand-up performances. Faruqui’s harassment and arrest in particular showcases the ease with which laws that supposedly protect communal harmony can become tools to foment discord between religious/community groups.
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Section 295-A is often regarded as India’s variant of a blasphemy law, which remains antithetical to the vision of India as a secular democracy, according to legal researchers. “[Section 295-A interferes with ideals of social reform of religion as envisaged under the Constitution by disallowing fair criticism of religion [and] it interferes with the freedom of atheists and non-believers which have been Constitutionally protected,” write Surbhi Karwa and Shubham Kumar in the Economic and Political Weekly. The law’s origins lie in 20th-century Punjab’s communal unrest; it was passed to discourage the promotion of enmity between religious and racial groups. Since, the law has been twisted into a tool to do precisely that, and frequent misuse of its legal application (as in the case of Faruqui), according to Karwa and Kumar, creates a “recipe for competitive political mobilization,” rather than the peaceful religious co-existence it’s supposed to ensure. Previous instances where 295-A was misused include police charges against M.F. Hussain for “defamatory” paintings of Hindu goddesses and the pulping of academic Wendy Doninger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.
Faruqui’s arrest sets a new dangerous precedent, jeopardizing pillars of secular democracy like criticizing the status quo and protecting minorities. Though 295-A was created to prevent communal discord, it’s recent usage has only been to create it. Thus, Section 295-A’s usefulness may have passed.