The Supreme Court also issued a notice protecting the comedian from further arrest after a separate case was opened against him by police in another state.
Munawar Faruqui, 30, was arrested in Indore on 1 January, after a right-wing group supporting the ruling Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government ambushed his show and hauled the comedian to a police station, claiming he was making jokes that offended their religion.
The Muslim comedian was later booked by the police based on a complaint registered by Eklavya Gaur, leader of the right-wing fringe group Hind Rakshak Sangathan (Saviours of India), who is also the son of a BJP politician.
The complaint accused Faruqui and his fellow comedians of making “filthy and indecent jokes” about Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as India’s home minister Amit Shah, during a comedy show.
The police initially claimed they had evidence from Faruqui’s stand-up performance, but later admitted that there is no video to prove he cracked those jokes in Indore.
Faruqui’s lawyer, in their bail petition, said the comedian never uttered the lines mentioned in the police report, as the members of the right-wing group stormed on to the stage before he could begin his act.
One member from the audience also wrote a detailed post stating that Faruqui never got a chance to perform any of the jokes before the nationalist group snatched his microphone away. A viral video on social media showed Faruqui apologising to the group’s leader and trying to calm them down.
Several reports in the Indian media quoting Mr Gaur suggested the group was angered by old videos of Faruqui’s stand-up acts, where he made a joke mentioning the deity Lord Ram and another about Mr Shah.
Faruqui’s arrest triggered outrage on social media, especially among comedians who talked about increasing intolerance in the country under the Modi government and highlighting a barrage of legal cases filed against comics and content creators for cracking jokes.
“It took him more than a month and all the way up to the Supreme Court to get interim bail, this is reflective of our judicial system and our police system,” Anas Tanwir, a Supreme Court lawyer who has been active in support of Faruqui told The Independent.
“There was no reason to arrest Munawar Faruqui, there was no reason to deny him bail even at the high court or the lower state court, he is not a flight risk or a repeat offender,” he said. “This is a travesty of justice that he had to spend so much time in jail in MP, had to face so much of violence and snarky comments from judges.”
During his 36 days in jail, Faruqui’s bail requests were rejected thrice, initially by the sessions court and later by the Madhya Pradesh state’s high court, where the bench concluded there was evidence to suggest Faruqui intended to outrage religious feelings “under the garb of stand-up comedy.”
“The evidence/material collected so far, suggest that in an organised public show under the garb of standup comedy at a public place on commercial lines, prima facie; scurrilous, disparaging utterances, outraging religious feelings of a class of citizens of India with deliberate intendment, were made by the applicant,” said the Madhya Pradesh High Court order.
At a high court hearing, a judge was reported to have asked Faruqui’s lawyers: “But why do you take undue advantage of other’s religious sentiments and emotions. What is wrong with your mindset? How can you do this for the purpose of the business?”
The judge was also reported to have said of Faruqui that “such people should not be spared”, according to local media reports.