Justice Rohit Arya of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has rejected the bail plea of stand up comedian Munawar Faruqui and said that the ‘possibility of collection of more incriminating material and
complacency of other persons cannot also be ruled out.’

Munawar Faruqui and five of his colleagues and friends have been in jail in Indore since Jan 1, 2021 on the charge that Faruqui allegedly insulted Hindu deities in a performance in Munroe Cafe in Indore on Jan 1. Despite testimonies of members of the audience that he did not utter any jokes on Hindu deities, a complaint by a local BJP leader resulted in his arrest.

In an order passed today, the judge said that the evidence/material collected sofar, suggest that in an organized public show under the garb of standup comedy at a public place on commercial lines, prima facie; scurrilous, disparaging utterances, outraging religious feelings of a class of citizens of India with deliberate intendment, were made by
the applicant.

The court rejected the contention of lawyers for Faruqui, Supreme Court advocate Viek Tankha and Anshuman Srivastava, that Faruqui did not utter anything as alleged. The judge also said:

That apart, there is also specific assertion by the learned counsel for the complainant that the applicant alongwith other coaccused persons allegedly making outraging filthy jokes in social media deliberately against Hindu Gods, Lord Shriram and Goddess Seeta hurting religious sentiments of Hindus for the last 18 months despite, protest on various social media platforms. There is nothing on record to the contrary.

Curiously, the judge barely addressed the arguments made by the lawyers for the accused. The latter, in their written arguments, said that FIR appeared to be politically motivated as the complainant namely Eklaya Singh Gaur, belonged to the ruling party in state and his mother is M.L.A. as well as Mayor of Indore. From the contents of complaint, it appeared that ‘the intention of Complainant is to gather political mileage by falsely dragging the Applicant in controversy with the name of Amit Shah who was National President of B.J.P. and Home Minister at present.’ The comedian, the plea pointed out was a victim of the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Barely had Faruqui got onto the stage and cracked a joke about attending a wedding in Delhi, when the complainant got onto the stage and interrupted his routine. Gaur said that Faruqui had hurt his religious sentiments by making fun of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The written arguments stated that the applicant (Faruqui), ‘while trying to calm the audiences and asking them to let him handle the situation, communicated with Complainant for around 5 to 10 minutes and further requested Complainant to sit and watch the show and assured him, that he will find nothing offensive or hurtful throughout the performance of the Applicant.’

Faruqui’s lawyers argued that the major ingredient of Section 295 A and Section 298, which he was charged with, is ‘deliberate intention of the person committing the offence.’ Both sections only punish the aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class, which was absent in this case and was emphasized in successive Supreme Court judgements in the 1957 Ramji Lal Modi Vs. State of U.P case and the 2017 Mahendra Singh Dhoni Vs. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar and Another case.

They also referred to multiple cases where ‘bail is the rule and jail the exception’ as well as the recent case granting bail to Republic channel owner editor Arnab Goswami where the Supreme Court said that a prima facie evaluation of the FIR ‘does not establish ingredients of alleged offence – accused is a resident of India and does not pose flight risk during investigation or trial – no apprehension of tampering evidence or witnesses – accused entitled to be released on bail.’

But the judge held that it was the ‘constitutional duty of every citizen of the country and also of the States to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India irrespective of religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture (Article 15A (e) and (f) of the Constitution of India.

Download the full order here:

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