Mumbai: An orphaned 17-year-old forced to do part-time jobs while trying to get his older brother out on bail. A mother who wakes up at midnight crying for her son to be released. A minor, preparing for an entrance exam to the Indian Institute of Technology, who had to spend two weeks in custody. A young, aspiring stand-up comic who might never perform again. A family that borrowed money to pay lawyers.
For the four families of the five men accused, along with stand-up comic Munawar Faruqui, of making—with no evidence—allegedly “indecent” and “vulgar” remarks against Hindu gods and goddesses and union Home Minister Amit Shah, their lives have been altered in ways they had never imagined.
All of them—Prakhar Vyas, his minor brother, Edwin Anthony, Nalin Yadav, Sadakat Khan—were arrested under the same charges as Faruqui—for allegedly cracking jokes and making remarks that are "deliberately intending to outrage religious feelings," for “uttering words etc with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings,” for “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” (in view of the pandemic), for “disobedience to order” and for “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention,” under sections 295-A, 298, 269, 188 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The FIR was filed on a complaint by Aklavya Gaur, the son of the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Malini Gaur and the convenor of the Hind Rakshak Sangathan or Hindu Protection Organisation. A vigilante mob led by Gaur disrupted the comedy show on 1 January at Indore’s Munroe Café and attacked audience members, according to eyewitnesses.
Indore Superintendent of Police Vijay Khatri told Article 14 on 14 January that Faruqui had not made the jokes he was supposed to have made, but the police arrested him anyway because they knew that he was “going to crack those jokes.”
While Faruqui, Vyas, Vyas’ brother and Anthony were released on bail (here and here) by the Supreme Court and Madhya Pradesh High Court, 49 days after they were arrested, Yadav and Khan remain in prison with no sign of immediate release.
Both have applied for bail in the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court but their cases have not been listed.
Yadav and Khan’s previous bail applications were rejected three times.
Hazy Charges, Unclear Crimes
It isn’t clear what crimes Yadav and Khan committed.
While arguing for his bail to be rejected, the prosecution had referred to Yadav as the organiser of the show. When the Indore bench of the MP High Court rejected Yadav’s bail on 29 January, it quoted testimony from a witness named Palash Gupta, who recalled that Yadav’s comedy show subject that day revolved around “pre-marital sex”.
According to Gupta, Yadav said, “I am not here to talk about religion; I have a problem with other things in society.” After which, Gupta alleged, Yadav joked about his problem with pre-marital sex being a taboo. “Being an Indian, do you want to do sex with someone then you should get married with someone (sic)…What the f**k!...I can’t decide who I should have sex with for my life. My parents will decide that for me.”
No crime is evident in these allegations, lawyers said.
In Khan’s case, the charges are even more mystifying. He was neither an accused in the first information report (FIR) registered by the complainant Gaur, nor was he arrested on 1 January with the remaining accused.
Khan, 26, a Mumbai civil contractor and a close friend of Faruqui’s, was in Indore to meet his extended family when Faruqui’s nationwide tour got there, his family said.
“So, he insisted on going and surprising Faruqui,” said Liyaqat Ali, 58, Khan’s father.
Sadakat Khan: An Inconsolable Mother
On the night Faruqui was arrested, Khan could not sleep, his family said.
Home after having witnessed Faruqui’s arrest, the show disrupted and the audience attacked by the mob of Hindu vigilantes, Khan was troubled, said Ali.
“That whole night, he kept getting calls from Faruqui’s family wanting to know more about what was happening,” said Ali.
The next morning, Khan, who was to leave for Mumbai, asked his family to cancel his return ticket and told them he wanted to go and check on his friend.
“He was desperate to see how his friend was,” said Ali. “Finally, he paid the price for his friendship.”
Ali is not sure what happened next. The next thing he knew, Khan had been arrested.
As he was being arrested, Khan was abused and assaulted by an unknown man who slapped him three times, while police officials surrounded Khan outside a local city court, the video of that assault going viral.
While opposing Khan’s bail plea in a local sessions court on 8 February, the Indore police said that videos from the ill-fated Indore event show Khan trying to back Faruqui when the mob disrupted his show. It also added that Khan helped Faruqui publicise his shows online and organise them.
Pointing to communal tensions in Ujjain and Indore on 25 December and 29 December, the police said any comments on or acts around religious issues could lead to a law-and-order problem.
Khan’s father does not believe these reasons.
“The only reason he was assaulted was his name,” said Ali “If his name was not Sadakat, nobody would have arrested him the next day, only for going to check on his friend.”
For the family, Khan’s arrest has been difficult: bringing them ignominy and affecting Khan’s mother “severely”, said Ali.
“She is inconsolable,” said Ali “She wakes up mid-way through her sleep and starts crying and asks for her son.”
Khan has always been her weakness, said Ali, recalling how Khan was injured in a train accident six years ago. “She was so disturbed by it that it took her years to recover,” said Ali.
Ali hoped that Khan would be released soon. “We don’t want her to go through the trauma all over again,” he said.
Akash Yadav: Isolated And Lonely
In the industrial city of Pithampur, 30 km west of Indore, 17-year-old Akash Yadav explained how his life had worsened since older brother Nalin’s arrest.
In October 2020, the two siblings lost their 47-year-old mother to breast cancer, after they lost their father many years ago.
“She worked two jobs to ensure that we got a decent education,” said Akash, a class 12 commerce student. Nalin, he said, was never into academics and was inclined towards the arts.
“He was the best dancer of Pithampur,” said Akash. “But then he started veering towards stand-up comedy and started pursuing his dream.”
Nalin lived in Indore, where he routinely organised what are called “open mic” sessions for other budding stand-up comics, poets and singers. In the process, he performed his own shows. Their life was always lonely, and their mother’s death only increased their isolation.
“Our parents had a love marriage, against the wishes of their families,” said Akash. “Since then, neither of the families has been close to us.”
The isolation has worsened since Nalin’s arrest. Forced to take a temporary job at a local travel agency, Akash has no adult family member to depend on. From handling his family’s finances to coordinating with Nalin’s lawyer Anshuman Shrivastava, who is fighting the case pro bono, Akash has been forced into premature maturity.
Prakhar Vyas, Edwin Anthony: Careers On Hold
At the homes of the other co-accused, Vyas and Edwin, released on 12 February after the High Court approved bail, jail time has or will impact their careers and ambitions.
Edwin, 24, has just finished an MBA and was all set to look for a job.
“Edwin simply stood by his friend, Prakhar, when the show was disrupted,” said his father M V Anthony. “Any friend would have done the same.” His son, said Anthony, “had his whole career ahead of him”.
Vyas, who works in a private company, refused to speak to Article 14. Sources close to him said that the 24-year-old hoped to be a stand-up comic and had paid a price for his ambition.
“Each time a big comic like Faruqui announced a show in Indore, he would try and get in touch with them beforehand and request them to let him do the opening act, before the main comic’s act,” a friend said.
That’s what Vyas tried to do, when he heard that Faruqui was going to visit Indore.
“One of the allegations by the police against Vyas is that he exchanged 18 calls with Faruqui,” said Vyas’ lawyer, Ajay Bagadiya. “Faruqui is not a fugitive, nor a criminal.”
“How can exchanging calls with him be a crime?”
Vyas’ misfortune did not end with these calls. His friend Edwin, who was also attending the show at his invitation, was arrested. So was Vyas’ 17-year-old minor brother, preparing for his IIT entrance exam.
“Vyas’ brother was not even scheduled to go to this show,” said a source close to the family “But, at the last minute, Vyas insisted that his brother accompany him because it would be a good break from his studies.”
According to Bagadiya, Vyas’ lawyer, the minor was initially kept in custody and sent to a juvenile home before being released on 14 January.
The family source said the turmoil might end Vyas’ ambitions. “I am not sure he will ever have the heart to go and perform comedy again.”
(Kunal Purohit is an independent journalist.)