Why Munawar Faruqui matters | HT Editorial
Munawar Faruqui, a stand-up comic, was arrested, along with four others, on January 1 in Indore — based on the complaint of a Hindutva activist and the son of the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator — for a joke he did not crack. The complainant claimed that he had seen videos of Mr Faruqui making jokes that offended religious sensitivities and didn’t want him to do so in Indore. The Madhya Pradesh (MP) Police showed unusual efficiency in arresting Mr Faruqui; the judiciary has not granted him bail, with a high court judge saying such people should not be “spared”. In a separate complaint about a past video, a case has also been registered against Mr Faruqui in Uttar Pradesh.
Make no mistake — this is an emblematic case, which brings to question India’s commitment to free speech, rule of law, and judicial fairness. First, Mr Faruqui did not crack the joke he was accused of — and arresting someone in anticipation of what the person would say, and assuming that the statement would offend religious sensibilities, is a stretch by any yardstick. Two, even if Mr Faruqui had cracked a joke, unless it was an incitement to violence or fell under the framework of the reasonable restrictions within which free speech is allowed, MP has little basis to arrest him. Three, the principle of bail being the norm, and jail being the exception, is being increasingly overturned by segments of the judiciary.
It was only recently that the Supreme Court took up the arrest of Arnab Goswami — and in a significant intervention, Justice DY Chandrachud said, “If we as a Constitutional Court do not lay down law and protect liberty, who will?” He was also scathing of high courts in general for their handling of such cases. And that may be why the SC should take up Mr Faruqui’s matter and apply the same principle of safeguarding his liberty.