Unnoticed: India is Snowballing Towards Authoritarianism

by Heeya Firdaus

Image: Indian Cop/Flickr

Since the BJP government came to power in 2014, India has seen an exponential increase in the arrest of dissenters. Be it comedians, authors, activists, journalists or simply students, the government has not hesitated to pursue a brutal campaign against anyone who even approaches a narrative that is remotely different from the one peddled by the Hindu nationalist (read: jingoist) government. 

So far, a few of the most respected scholars and historians of India have been arrested for inciting violence at an event they were not present at. An 83-year old priest with Parkinson’s disease has been arrested and denied access to a sipper to help him consume food, students have been abused for allegedly singing songs that incite sedition, movie producers have been sued for their content, NGO’s such as Amnesty International have been harrassed by the government and people have even been arrested for what they post on their Facebook stories. All arrests seem to target either Muslims, other minorities, non Hindu-upper-castes, journalists, or anyone else who refuses to applaud a system of ethnic cleansing and an authoritarian ideology of Hindu supremacy. 

Indian Comedian, Munawar Faruqui, has become the newest victim of this vessel of oppression as of October 2020. Beginning his career as a humble salesman, he spent most of his life shuttling between multiple jobs to make ends meet. A spontaneous open mic made him an instant hit as he garnered over 500,000 subscribers on Youtube within 18 months.

Having lost his home in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, Faruqui draws inspriration from his own experiences and his identity as a Muslim for his content. In April 2020, a youtube video of one of his sets became the centre of controversy. In it, he talks about a Bollywood song “Mera Piya Ghar Aya Oh Ram Ji” (Dear Lord Ram, my beloved has come home). The controversy was fuelled by the belief that the comedian had allegedly insulted hindu god Ram while talking about the song.

The controversy fizzled out soon only to be revived in October 2020 when Faruqui went on tour. His show was stormed by members of a Hindu Extremist outfit claiming that he had insulted Hindu deities in his set. For some reason, they also decided to add to their list of complaints the accusation that he had joked about the Union Home minister Amit Shah. Upon a complaint by a local BJP (ruling party) MLA’s son, Faruqui and 4 other comedians at the venue were arrested.

The most concerning part about this whole debacle is the systemic oppression occurring within judicial institutions. During Faruqui’s hearing, the court denied him bail despite the police admitting to having no evidence against his wrongdoing. In subsequent sessions, while his lawyers demanded that the evidence against him be produced, the police refused to submit the case file even though the station was across the road from the court. With absolutely no proof to support their case against Faruqui, the police resorted to the desperate tactics of claiming that he should be kept incarcerated because of the possibility of him making more allegedly objectionable remarks which can apparently cause a “law and order” problem. However, this accusation was also baseless as videos of his live performance surfaced online, proving that no such comment was made.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against the accusations and the embarrassing lack of evidence in support of these baseless claims, Faruqui remains in custody while his bail is repeatedly denied. Another astonishing twist was discovered recently when the police themselves admitted to the fact that the videos that were submitted as proof by the accuser was, in fact, of an entirely different comedian. Other members of the comedy-fraternity, as well as numerous ex-judges and journalists, have come forward to condemn the arrest, pointing out that the move only goes to show that the government is purely pursuing a clampdown on dissent or perhaps a majoritarian vendetta and therefore, doesn’t require any proof to arrest.

This system of persecution and brutality has become so common under the BJP regime, that infringing upon human rights has become the norm. Most arrests being made have been done on baseless claims or fabricated.The arrests are absolutely arbitrary and have been made under counter-terrorism and sedition laws that give the police blanket protection against producing any kind of evidence.

Through these completely bizarre and equally alarming events, what is most concerning is the lack of International condemnation. So far, the government has not been held accountable for a single act that they have committed which includes inciting riots, failing to arrest real terrorists, denying citizens their fundamental rights, amending the constitution arbitrarily, editing history textbooks to fit their ideology, condoning and even awarding criminals who agree to propagate their stance, and most of all for abusing state machinery. India has always boasted about its diversity and commitment to a heterogenous population. However, a lethal threat to the very essence of this nation seems to be met only with passivity, ignorance, and a complete unwillingness to recognise that things are really going wrong.

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