Munnawar Faruqui, in jail for joke he did not crack, casts a cloud on Republic Day

Republic Day is all about Constitution. But neither pageant or parade and tableaux this year can hide how frayed Republic is. Which Republic jails someone because he might crack a joke in future?

Munnawar Faruqui, in jail for joke he did not crack, casts a cloud on Republic Day

Ranjona Banerji

In the long list of atrocities on Muslims during the ascent of the Narendra Modi government to power at the Centre, what do we make of the latest case of Munawar Faruqui? This young comedian, 28, was arrested by the Indore police on January 1 on the basis of a complaint by the son of a BJP politician, who is also part of a Hindutva vigilante group. The complaint was that Faruqui organised and was part of a stand-up comedy act which “insulted” Hindu gods.

However, it soon emerged that neither Faruqui nor anyone else present had said anything insulting about Hindu gods. In any other reality, Faruqui would have been released, and maybe even those who filed the complaint could have been cautioned about wasting police time.

But this is Modi’s India. This is BJPs India. And this is Madhya Pradesh. Where having toppled an elected government by marketplace manipulations, the BJP chief minister Shivraj Chouhan is out to prove himself more anti-Muslim, more poisonously Hindutvavadi than ever before. And so Faruqui, his fellow organisers, a friend who had come visiting, are all under state detention with bail repeatedly denied.

Don’t laugh, except in despair. Because it gets more diabolical. Having found there is no legal reason to imprison him in Madhya Pradesh, the Indore Police have found that similar charges can be made in Uttar Pradesh. UP is run by Ajay Mohan Bisht, known also as Yogi Adityanath, a temple priest and militant Hindutva activist. Rule of law and UP do not even have a tenuous connection, and atrocities against Muslims, women, minorities, lower castes, Dalits are at unimaginable highs. All this makes UP a role model for other BJP chief ministers who try to outdo Bisht in prejudice and hatred.

But let’s get back to Faruqui. And that he has committed no crime. And yet he is under arrest for something that he might say in the future. There is a strong argument here for freedom of speech and expression, even within the strictures of the law and the enormous sensitivity of Indians when it comes to matters of religion. Let’s look at the other argument here. The argument that a comedian can be arrested for something he has not said on the suspicion that he might say something that might upset someone in the future because he has said something in the past that did upset someone.

This is not satire. This is not a farce about a totalitarian state. This is not sci fi where investigating agencies arrest you for thinking about crime. This is real life in a so-called democracy.

We all know what this is, so why try and disguise it in legal or constitutional terms? We know that neither the Law nor the Constitution is of any significance in this case. What has happened to Faruqui is because he is Muslim, because the claim against him comes from a BJP connection and because the Madhya Pradesh government wants to prove to other BJP states and to its toxic supporters that Muslims cannot get justice in BJP states.

This is open discrimination, of the sort that was done to Jews in Nazi Germany. Variations of this sort of legal entangling – like Dr Kafeel Khan, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Usmani to name just three – or murder by mobs as happened to Mohammed Akhlaq or Junaid Khan, to name only two, have happened so often since Modi came to power in 2014 that some of us do not even clock them anymore. As desired by the RSS plan, we are now inured to basic freedoms and rights being denied to Muslims.

This year’s Republic Day pageant will include the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The temple to be built on the site of a mosque demolished by a criminal act but with no punishment, thanks to our courts. This is the clearest signal to Muslims in India and all Indians who are not part of the RSS-BJP-Hindutva movement that the Indian Republic is on its way to officially becoming a Hindu majoritarian state.

Republic Day is when we celebrate our Constitution. It is about “We the people”, giving to ourselves: “Justice, social economic and political, Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”. But not if you are a Muslim. Not if you are a dissenting person. You have no liberty of thought or chance of justice.

This is the death knell of our Republic. What will remain is the shell. And we were all awake when it happened.

(The author is a columnist and commentator based in Dehradun. The views are the author’s own)

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