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Comedian Munawar Faruqui, after spending 35 days in Indore Central Jail and being granted interim bail by the Supreme Court on Friday, was released late Saturday night, but not before a Supreme Court judge called up the Indore chief judicial magistrate to check that the bail had been executed. This, after the jail authorities had allegedly refused to comply on Friday as they had ‘not received any official order’ staying an order from the Prayagraj CJM for Faruqui’s production before him. If these proceedings (sic) were not grave, they would have been comic.
The charge levelled — by a Madhya Pradesh MLA, no less — against Faruqui has become rather hackneyed: ‘hurting religious sentiments’. He had also seemingly hurt non-religious sentiments in one of his performances by cracking a joke about a Union minister, something newspaper cartoons do several times a day without being deemed illegal. The defence maintained that the charges filed were ‘vague’ and that due process had not been followed in his arrest, submissions disregarded by the MP High Court but readily accepted by the Supreme Court. How divergence of legal perspective reflects on the working of the high court is a matter of concern.
The law works according to procedures, not on whim, fancy and phone calls. Apart from the fact that the state and its arms need to encourage the development of thicker skins, not of hair-trigger sensitivities, for the sake of a liberal India that can focus on genuine crimes and problems, India should be made to behave less like a banana republic. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming a selective banana republic, on the peel of which some people can be made to slip at the behest of others. That would be tragic, not slapstick.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.