Republic of India is going through a phase when the rights and privileges of the citizen are being visibly trampled. The ordeal that comedian Munawar Faruqui in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and others like Prakhar Vyas, Nalin Yadav, Priyam Vyas and Edwin Anthony had to face, represents a new manifestation of mob justice. A Gujarati stand-up comedian, Munawar Faruqui is one of those who conduct comedy shows on stage before audiences. As his show was about to begin in Indore on January 1, a group of people arrived and inerrupted his programme. They argued with Faruqui and caused a ruckus. After a while, police arrived and stopped the peformance. By evening, Faruqui and others were arrested and put in jail. If the police had been guided by the Constitution and rule of law, they should have restrained the mob and enquired about the situation. But what they did instead was to accept the crowd's allegation tht Faruqui made fun of Hindu gods as such, and promptly arrested him. That Faruqui had not committed such an offence was vouched for by those in the audience and the video clips of the programme. Even the police admit that there was no proof of any insulting remarks about gods in any public programme, other than the footage of some earlier rehearsal.
To the question why Faruqui was still arrested, the queer reply given by police superintendent Vijay Khatri was that Faruqi was going to do that. But when the mob decided, and police obliged, what stand did the courts take? The courts, which should have stood on the side of civil rights, did not adopt a stance in line with the Constitution. Thus, courts denied bail to Faruqui more than once going solely by the police argument that if he was let off, there would be a law and order crisis. This approach of validating mob rule and preventing citizen's freedom runs directly counter to the Constitution. Although he approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court in appeal, the court was not prepared to consider it on urgent basis. There is a large number of citizens who are unable to enjoy the guarantees of the Constitution for offences that they did not commit.
Faruqui's show was one involving people of different religious faiths. The man who headed the gang that interrupted the show was Eklavya Singh Gaur, the leader of an outfit called Hindu Rakshak Sanghathan and son of BJP MLA Malini Gaur. What the police - who should have first thought about the right and freedom of artists and organisers of an arts show - actually did was to take hats off to the vigilance of the crowd. But if the courts, at different levels from Indore sessions court, Judicial First Class Magistrate Court to the Madhya Pradesh High Court could not see any injustice in the police action of putting citizens in jail for offences not committed by them, that is a sign of the rule of law being in danger. Recall the Supreme Court step of allowing an urgent hearing of Arnab Gowswami's bail plea, when there was evidence against him in a criminal case. The highest court has also granted protection from arrest to television presenter Amish Devgan, who had insulted a sufi leader Muin Al-din Chishti. When the judiciary, which in these two cases upheld the value of individual freedom and civil rights, then refuses to even grant bail in a civil case without evidence, doesn't it amount to disregarding the Constitution? In the meantime, Uttar Pradesh police – the same police that had arrested journalist Siddique Kappan who was on the way to report the Hathras gang rape case - has come up with an earlier case to catch Munawar Faruqui.
The criticism that such fabricated cases are a ploy of interested quarters to distract public attention from the failures in governance, is quite pertinent. In this context, the judiciary and its credibility are of prime import. Even a perception that the judiciary is becoming party to the process of legitimising mobocracy, will inflict a lethal blow on politics. It was in this context that when a court in Delhi allowed Delhi police to conduct a raid in the office of Advocate Mehmood Chapra, who appears against the government in human rights cases including those around citizenship protests, the court's permission was widely criticised. The innumerable individuals, incarcerated by the government on political and communal interests, raise questions about the sense of justice displayed by the judiciary. And there is also a global report that should really disturb us on this Republic Day. The new edition of The 'Fragile States Index', formerly known as 'Failed States Index', says that India has also joined the group of nations where rule of law is crashing fast. The classification of India under countries that demand high vigilance, was made because of the country's deteriorating situation under parameters of economy, stability, development, security and rule of law. The Republic Day context gives us a foreboding that this deterioration also constitutes a tug of war between the government and the Constitution.