Why Are Indian Muslim Dissenters Seen As a ‘Threat’ to the State?

Comedian Faruqui’s arrest is a continuation of the crackdown that started in 2019 against vocal Indian Muslims. 

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Image of incarcerated comedian Munawar Faruqui used for representational purposes.
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“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty, but...”

Stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui has been in jail along with four of his friends since the past 24 days, for allegedly ‘planning’ to ‘hurt the sentiments of the Hindu majority’ through their jokes.

Though there isn’t any evidence of the aforementioned charge, that too by police admission, a large part of Indian society supports his unfair incarceration in the greater interest of ‘protecting their faith’.

The arrest of Faruqui is just a continuation of the crackdown that started in early 2019, against vocal Indian Muslims.

The arrests began with the advent of the anti-CAA protests, and the witch hunt of dissenting Muslims has been a relentless pursuit since then. Sharjeel Usmani, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Umar Khalid, Meeran Haider, Khalid Saifi, Siddique Kappan... the list is ever-increasing.

Setting An Example?

It appears that all these vocal Indian Muslims are being persecuted and incarcerated to ‘set an example’ for other Muslims in India. There was a time when Muslims were largely accused of being ‘uneducated and backward’; only a small ‘educated’ section comprising so-called elite Muslims, were in the limelight, and more often than not they would dissociate themselves from their religious identity.

But over the last two years, India has seen the emergence of the educated Indian Muslim, who have worn their religious identity on their sleeves, who are aware of their rights, and unafraid to demand them.

This unprecedented development is not going down well with the powers that be, and thus, the relentless effort to to crush these voices of dissent.

Muslim students and activists were being persecuted over the past couple of years, for dissenting against the unconstitutional CAA and NRC. In the case of Munawar Faruqui however, it is yet to be ascertained whether he was being targeted for his alleged jokes on Hindus and Hinduism, or his subtle digs at particular political figures. If that be the case, it is not actually his jokes, but the ‘truth’ he spoke in the form of satire, that landed him in trouble. As this government has demonstrated on many (previous) occasions, it doesn’t take kindly to any form of criticism.

Faruqui’s Use Of Satire

Faruqui is not the only comedian to have made digs at the government. In fact, most comedians are anti-establishment by default, and it has always been a norm for stand-up comedians to make fun of those in power. Remember Shekhar Suman’s impeccable mimicry of Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his show ‘Movers & Shakers’? What sets Munawar Faruqui apart from even other Muslim comedians, is that, he is from Gujarat, lived through 2002, and doesn’t shy away from making constant references to 2002 in his jokes.

This was bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable, because satire is often used to drive home uncomfortable truths.

Faruqui had become a pro in doing that, his immense popularity and meteoric rise in the Indian stand-up comedy scene corroborated this. He needed to be ‘kept on a leash’, and what better excuse to use religion to flare-up public sentiments. Therefore, it was not his live audience, who ever took offence at his jokes, but a section that was committed to hushing him up.

When Judgments Are Skewed

A cursory look at the proceedings of the bail plea of Munawar Faruqui, and you can see through the apparent bias. The legal system is one of the last resorts to getting justice, but what does one do, when a judge uses language like, “such people must not be spared”.

When a judge directs the police to ‘take proper care of him’, what does it indicate if not ‘custodial torture’?

What should you view it as, if not a vendetta against a Muslim man, to ‘put him in his place’? Not only Faruqui but his four friends, Priyam Vyas, Prakhar Vyas, Nalin Yadav and Edwin Anthony have also been kept in custody, on the basis of their association with him. ‘Collateral damage’ as they say, where you need to put three Hindus in jail, for the sake of keeping one Muslim behind bars.

“Hindu khhatre mein hain” anyone? This seems like a ploy to not only silence vocal Indian Muslims, but also isolate them in the long run. It is a systematic plan to turn a man into a pariah, so that he is socially ostracised and considered a liability by people around him. The vicious targeting of Faruqui is not only aimed at teaching him a ‘lesson’, but to serve as a deterrent for any such attempts in the future.

An ‘Undeclared Emergency’

What is worrying, is the way in which the whole system, including the media, legal and political systems have taken up the mission of fuelling the ‘Hindutva victim complex’ image, consistently presenting them with the picture of the ‘ideal Muslim offender’. If you are a vocal Indian Muslim, you are nothing more than a sitting duck, waiting for your turn to be turned into the next scapegoat.

Faruqui’s troubles won’t just don’t end with the bail, which has not yet been received. The UP Police is already biding its time to take him into custody, if and when he receives bail. Satire as a form of critique has been used in the past, but never has the government come down so hard on its critiques.

Probably the last time it happened was during Emergency, and it increasingly seems like we are living in a state of ‘undeclared emergency’.

Being a vocal Muslim in India, in the current hostile environment, is a double-edged sword and you never know, when you would be at the receiving end. They say that when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. But in a country like ours, when you have become ‘used to oppressing people’, even resistance appears like aggression and if you happen to be a Muslim, you are ‘punished twice’ — one for the alleged crime and once for your religious identity.

(Dr Nazma Parveen is a practising doctor from Kolkata. She likes to write on sociopolitical issues and has written previously for The Hindu, TNM, Scroll, and Deccan Herald. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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