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But Munawar Faruqui should never have been in jail

On New Year Day standup comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested for a show in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Along with Edwin Anthony, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas and Nalin Yadav, he was booked under various IPC sections including 295A, which relates to “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings.”

 Even as such cases grow, it is very clear that the outrage in question is highly arbitrary and subjective, and taken to its logical conclusion would silence all jokes and storytelling, leaving the ghost of freedom of expression rattling in a very lonely cage. Nobody should have any doubt that this fate is completely antithetical to the health of India’s diverse democracy, both socially and economically. If citizens cannot voice their disgruntlement and seek redress or laugh about it, their material reality will become painfully worse.

Read also: Supreme Court grants interim bail to stand up comic Munawar Faruqui

It is in this context that both the arrest of Faruqui and then multiple denials of bail, are causes of high concern. Note that the Indore Superintendent of Police Vijay Khatri was even reported to suggest that lack of proof of Faruqui having voiced religious insults on January 1 didn’t matter  because he was going to voice them.

After such a stain on the processes of law and order, it is a great relief that  the Supreme Court has today granted interim bail to the comedian. But unless there is accountability for those who have collaborated to keep him in jail for jokes that he seemingly did not even make, it will have a silencing effect on other witty and smart voices in our country. Outside the country, the jokes on us will of course flourish.

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