As 2021 dawned, stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested from a club in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, for “mocking the deities of another religion” and no one uttered a word about intolerance.
Faruqui was arrested by the Indore police after a complaint from Eklavya Goud, chief of Hindu Rakshak Sangathan and secretary of the state unit of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of Bharatiya Janata Party. He is the son of BJP MLA Malini Gaud.
Faruqui remained in jail for over a month, though the police had no evidence of his “crime”. His bail plea was rejected two times, including by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, until he was granted bail on February 5 by the Supreme Court.
Five others were also arrested. Apart from one who was granted bail because he is a minor, the rest are still in prison.
The events of January 1
On January 1, Faruqui, 28, was scheduled to perform at a show organised by Prakhar Vyas, 24, and Nalin Yadav, 24, at Monroe Cafe in Indore. The tickets for the show, which began at 4 pm, were available online on Book My Show.
Faruqui’s friend Saad Sheikh, who is also a stand-up comedian, told Newslaundry, “Every show has a producer, host and stand-up comedian. This was the case with the Indore show as well. The January 1 show’s producer was Edwin Anthony. Yadav was the host and Vyas was the first performer.”
This was corroborated by Rajat Solanki, the manager of Monroe Cafe. “This show was organised by Yadav and Vyas,” he said. “Since they have organised family shows in our café earlier as well, we did not enquire much before allowing them.”
Vyas, Anthony and Yadav were among those others arrested with Faruqui, as well as Vyas’s 17-year-old brother.
Solanki himself wasn’t present at the venue on January 1. “I had an accident a few days before the show and fractured my leg,” he said. “Therefore, I wasn’t at the café and I cannot tell you what exactly happened that day. They had booked the venue from 4 pm to 7 pm.”
At these events, the host typically begins the show after a warm-up performance. The main stand-up comedian takes the stage only in the end.
According to the FIR filed in the matter, the “crime” took place at 4.30 pm. But even if the show on January 1 began sharp at 4 pm, it seems unlikely that Faruqui, who was the lead artist, performed within half an hour from that time. An Indian Express said that Vyas, Yadav and a few other junior comedians performed before Faruqui.
According to eyewitnesses, Faruqui did not even perform that day. Jenosha Agnes, an audience member who , said that as soon as Faruqui took to the stage, another member of the audience stopped him. Agnes described this person as a “guy with political connections” who grabbed the mic and began talking about his religious sentiments getting hurt.
This “politically connected” person was the complainant, Eklavya Goud, chief of Hindu Rakshak Sangathan and secretary of the state unit of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha – the youth wing of Bharatiya Janata Party.
Agnes emphasised in her posts that Faruqui did not make “derogatory remarks” on Hinduism or Islam; instead, she said, he told Eklavya that his intention was not to hurt anyone, and asked him to sit down and watch the show. The crowd then dispersed, she wrote, but a few men stayed back.
that Eklavya was accompanied by “six or seven” people who, according to Agnes, contacted the police. Soon after, the police arrived and took six people – Faruqui, Anthony, Yadav, Vyas and Vyas’ younger brother – to Tukoganj police station.
But why were the other four arrested?
Newslaundry contacted their families to piece together what happened.
Nalin Yadav is from Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district, while Prakhar Vyas, Edwin Anthony, and the minor live in Indore. The bail pleas of all four have been rejected by a sessions court. The families have petitioned the high court but have not received a hearing date yet.
Two of the families refused to speak about the case. Even after assurances of anonymity, one of them said, “We don’t want to create further trouble for our children by speaking to the media. We request you to please leave.”
When asked if similar shows had been organised before by their offspring, they said they didn't know. “Maybe they did, but we don’t know. Just see, a minor who only went to watch the show has also been jailed.”
Faruqui lives in Indore with his wife. His father died last year and his mother in 2007.
Faruqui’s friend, Saad Sheikh, said he’s been doing comedy shows with Faruqui and two others for the last three years – over 20 shows so far. “Our last show was four months ago,” he said. “It was titled Dahej, Veg Biryani and was uploaded on YouTube.”
But Faruqui is no stranger to controversy. In April last year, a former Shiv Sena youth leader had tweeted that he had over one of Faruqui’s videos, titled Dawood, Yamraaj & Aurat.
“This was the first time that someone complained about our videos,” Sheikh said. “Faruqui was terrified after that because there was so much anger on social media about it. But we thought that it was only on social media spread by a few concerned groups so we should not be frightened. I told him to continue with his shows, these people will do nothing.”
In October, Sheikh said, their show in Jaipur was stopped by “people of a Hindu outfit”, though he gave no details on what had happened. “At that time, Faruqui didn’t want any controversy so we buried the matter,” he said.
But one of these cases has come back to haunt Faruqui. Last year, a against one of his videos, titled PUBG, Arnab & Drugs. No action was taken on the complaint. But after Faruqui’s arrest in Indore, the Uttar Pradesh police swung into action and indicated that they wanted to question him. When Faruqui got bail, the Supreme Court also from arresting him in connection with the Prayagraj complaint.
On his friend’s arrest on January 1, Sheikh said, “He was arrested even before he could perform. When he did not say anything, on what basis was he arrested?”
Days after Faruqui’s arrest, the Indore police against him. A senior police official said there was “nothing malicious” in video footage of Faruqui’s show on New Year’s Day.
On January 14, Indore superintendent of police Vijay Khatri as saying: “It doesn’t matter whether Faruqui cracked a joke or not. We have been told by the complainant that he has mocked Hindu deities during rehearsals. He may not have told those jokes on stage, but he had the intention to do so.”
Khatri has since been transferred to Bhopal. A senior police officer in Indore told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity, that these media reports are “false”. Investigating officer Mahendra Chauhan and other police personnel connected to the case refused to speak to this reporter.
Faruqui’s lawyer, Anshuman Shrivastav, told Newslaundry: “The way the police acted in this case makes it apparent that there’s political pressure on them.” Why else would the police act with such alacrity to arrest Faruqui and the others?
He added: “It is very unfortunate that during the hearing of Faruqui’s bail plea, the police could not produce the case diary immediately.”
As Faruqui’s case made headlines, one other person stepped into the limelight: Eklavya Goud, the complainant.
Eklavya, 36, is the convener of a right-wing outfit called the Hindu Rakshak Sangathan, and is also the state secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. Importantly, his mother, Malini Goud, is the former mayor from Indore and its current MLA. His father, Lakshman Goud, is a former minister and politician who founded the Hindu Rakshak Sangathan 25 years ago. Lakshman Goud died in 2008, and his son took over the organisation.
Eklavya has reportedly been involved in “several brawls” in the city. In 2016, for instance, he allegedly “thrashed” a policeman at a temple in Indore. A case was registered but no action was taken.
Jayashri Pingle, a senior lawyer in Madhya Pradesh, suggested that the police took action on Eklavya’s complaint to “prove their political loyalty”. With Munawar Faruqui’s case, she said, Eklavya has now emerged as a contender for a party ticket in the state.
A version of this report was originally published on .