As the witch-hunt of student leaders and human rights activists in India continues, it has been one year since the Central government haltered Indian democracy in chains. The Anti-CAA/NRC protests attained its pinnacle of resistance when the insightful youth, and powerful opponent of Government thronged the Indian streets with copies of Indian constitution and annals of freedom struggles, held in their hands.
Even when the Anti-CAA protests were rolled down due to Covid, the Government continued to strike down student leaders and activists who took part in the protests and made speeches at events. Sharjeel Imam including other leaders with Umar Khalid as the latest one continuing to be the victims of a not so far dictatorial rule trying to expel its people on the basis of religion.
On January 28,2020 Sharjeel Imam, a former IIT Graduate and currently a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was arrested with sedition charges on the FIR made by five states for his speech at the protests in Aligarh.
By carving out a few portions of his speech that sounds inciteful against the Government and his call for "chakka Jaam", had provoked the Police to falsely frame him as an Anti-national and conspirator to Delhi communal riots. While Kapil Mishra who imposed a call for riots among Sangh workers, the one who induced hatred among Hindus and Muslims during his hate mongering speech, disappeared from the Charge sheet of Delhi Police.
Aasif Mujtaba who shared several protest squares with Imam recalls his memories and experiences with him to Madhyamam. He is the founder and CEO of Miles2Smile, an NGO working to rehabilitate poor and the victims of recent 'Delhi pogrom'.
How do you view Sharjeel Imam as a leader of Anti CAA/NRC protests?
Mujtaba: Of all the protestors involved in CAA/NRC, Sharjeel had a very Colossal role. He was the one who planted the seeds of the protests at Shaheen Bagh. He played a great role in creating and managing Shaheen Bagh along with other volunteers and student leaders. He has also contributed in sensitizing the community. The result of protests and raising of one's voice against the state oppression came as a cause of this sensitization. How you tell them about the oppression, the deceits of the government for the past 70 years.
Imam had a pivotal role at both these stages whether in the protests at Jantar Mandir or the 'Parcha' (Pamphlet) distribution. He sensitized various groups at various places and made them aware about what was CAA and how would it affect the Muslims of the country. He talks directly and boldly without compromising on the truths. So definitely, Imam has been a colossal leader who planted the seeds of Anti NRC protests.
Could you share some of the memories and experiences you shared with him during the protests?
There are quite a lot of great memories and experiences I had shared with him. I remember meeting Sharjeel on December 14th at Jamia, the next day after the Police brutality in the campus. So when me and Imam sat together in that atmosphere of resentment, the prime question that came up was what should be the corrector of this whole protests? And how Muslims should take these protests forward? Should we do that by asserting our identity or by keeping only the identity of a secular country? And in what way should the spirit of this movement be guided?
Out of some 30-40 people there, me and Imam had a very coherence in thought. He was very clear that this movement should be based on the Muslim identity. There is no shame in denying the fact that we have been targeted, humiliated, marginalized socially and economically. And CAA is just another tool in that series of oppression. That was the beginning of my relationship with him.
Later on, we stayed together and discussed things in length. He is good at history and me in Constitution and Polity. So we often sit together at Shaheen Bagh and 20-30 people would sit around us around the bonfire
We also had discussions with the Police officials, RWA, DCP and local leaders, who said that we were creating troubles by blocking the roads. After listening to all of them patiently, it was Sharjeel then who stood up and said "ham Khali nigal gaye". And I also remember that the Police officials used to call him 'Sharjeel Gandhi".
Imam is charged with sedition for his speech at a protest and you shared the same space with him as well. Could you recollect about the gathering and his talk?
I couldn't attend the protest with him at Aligarh, and other than that we have shared several of the protest gatherings. 'Chakka Jaam is not Seditious", rather it is important to pressurize the government to pull back from such draconian laws and unrighteous amendments.
We would take turns and address the Shaheen Bagh twice or thrice a day. He narrates the stories and history of Muslims have been oppressed by the state, how we have been denied of economic and social rights, and I would tell them how the Polity has failed in safeguarding the rights of the minorities and what are the loopholes in attaining our rights.
Imam has been denied bail and is imprisoned along with other student leaders. Why do you think Muslim student leaders are targeted and witch-hunted by the Government?
Actually, his bail plea is pending in the Aligarh Court and the hearing was on 17th December. So other than in Delhi, he had already got a bail in Assam, and in Arunachal. So when the trial begins in 5 or 15 days hopefully he would get bail in all the false cases charged upon him.
See this whole idea of bringing CAA despite of the fact that it is a violation of the constitution, discriminatory and a direct attack to the secular fabric of the country, the Govt. brought it up definitely because they want to target Muslims and identity they carried. But the thing was that the government was unprepared. They thought that there will be little resistance as that had in the Babri verdict or after the abrogation of Article 370. They couldn't prepare to strike back these mammoth protests that took place and so they never wanted any further ones in such a large scale to take place.
The onset of protests which began in the Universities resulted in the transformation of campuses into centres of creative resistance and protest squares, which were thrashed down by the Government-Police forces with in no time. When Delhi Police enforced brutal attacks and stringent opposition against the Parliament March and later in the premises of Aligarh and Jamia Milia Universities from where the country witnessed the spirit of dignity and honour of its citizens, initated by Muslim girls like Aysha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana. The attacks on students were later resumed to hostels and libraries inside the campus of Jamia Milia, inducing firings, throwing explosives and banging down students and even those inside the libraries were not spared. The CCTV footages have revealed the extreme brutality of Delhi Police and the physical assaults upon students including attacks on their sexual parts.
Imam's call for a 'Chakka Jam' in Assam could be viewed as the result of resentment from the long years of oppression and injustice to the Muslim Community. He was clear in the mode of leading the protests so as to pressurize the government to repeal the citizenship amendment. He tried to unite the collective consciousness of the community, typing up the secular nation together to fight against this unconstitutional and discriminatory amendment law.
Sharjeel Imam is a leader who fearlessly talks the truth and stand for it without turning an inch back. He calls spade a spade and unwaveringly take a stance for fulfilling the lost justice.
"Remember, if the masses are angry, then that anger must be used for productive purpose. This is our responsibility. We should use this anger productively and not waste it on photo sessions." said Imam while concluding his speech.