Sharjeel Imam became a litmus test for Muslim allies

Muzzammil Imam

Tamam log bahut khush hain, apni masti me hain,

Main kis se bolun mere log mar gaye afkar

Everyone is happy, enjoying their own lives.

Who will listen Afkar that my people have died

As I listen to this couplet by young poet Afkar Alvi, it makes me feel as if my own emotions have been penned down.

Last winter, the BJP led government of India introduced the controversial bill to enact Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Along with the proposed revision of National Register of Citizenship, many fear the amendment is an attempt at disenfranchising millions of Muslims living in India. Much before the bill was tabled in the parliament scholars and political activists across the country started opposing the move.

My elder brother, Sharjeel Imam, started a campaign against the bill much before it was tabled. A day before it was introduced in the parliament Sharjeel addressed a public meeting at Jantar Mantar where he asked Muslims to step up against the bill in order to save their citizenship and hence constitutional rights. He argued that in case CAA was passed by the parliament and made into an act it would leave the status of Indian Muslims at par with the Rohingya community of Myanmar.

Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, brought the controversy to the public discourse by tearing down a copy of the bill during the debate in the parliament. At that time, people like me considered it a historic and bold move. Soon, students in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) came out on roads to oppose the passing of the bill.

Protest across the nation erupted after students of JMI and AMU were lathi-charged by the police on the night of 15th December 2019. My brother responded with a rare show of defiance. He, with a handful of people, blocked a road at Shaheen Bagh. The spot and the event has since been described by people as revolution, protest, movement, or anything people wanted to.

Sharjeel Imam wanted people to take inspiration from Shaheen Bagh and block roads at multiple locations across the country in order to pressurize the government to listen to the demands of the minority. He believed that with a lack of representation in the parliament Muslims hitting the road is the only method through which we could make the government listen to our apprehensions. Instead of this people stormed Shaheen Bagh. Celebrities started pouring in. Everyone, from across the country, started visiting the blockade rather than blocking roads in their own cities.

Meanwhile, I started mobilizing people in Bihar and organized a protest site in Jehanabad. Sharjeel grew disillusioned with the manner people were storming to only one site in the country. On 2nd January 2020, he asked people to open the blockade at Shaheen Bagh Protest site as its objective, to attain attention, had been fulfilled and protests at multiple sites were to be organized. A bloc of people who had been visiting the place as an amusement site called him a traitor.

Meanwhile, politicians and activists with celebrity statuses kept visiting Shaheen Bagh and getting coverage as ‘warriors of a community’. On the other hand, far from the limelight, Sharjeel Imam was visiting different places across the country to sensitize the community. It was during one such visit at AMU that he gave the famous speech for which he is now in jail.

As a political activist, who himself took part in protests against CAA, and as brother of Sharjeel Imam, the man behind bars for organising Shaheen Bagh Protest, how do I look at the whole CAA- NRC Protest, which a few people would like to call a movement?

First of all, I believe that most of the people, not all, involved in the protests against CAA were dishonest people. They never believed that CAA is an actual threat. For them, CAA was just another issue to target the incumbent government. People often ask me how people associated with these protests have been towards Sharjeel Imam after his arrest. In my view, it is not about Sharjeel but CAA. These people have left the very issue. What more can I say?

kaise kah duuñ ki mujhe chhoḌ diyā hai us ne

baat to sach hai magar baat hai rusvā.ī kī

How can I say that I have been deserted

It’s true but this will cause me to be shamed forevermore

I don’t complain that people have tried to overlook the role of my brother as one of the torchbearers of these protests, I don’t complain that people are using his name to achieve publicity while never enquiring about his well being from me, I don’t complain that people have called him arrogant, traitor and extremist but I do complain that people have played with the emotions of millions to gain political mileage or carve out their careers.

Sharjeel Imam never wanted a name for himself. He has been raised by parents who taught him that:

jo harf-e-haq kī himāyat meñ ho vo gum-nāmī

hazār vaz.a ke nām-o-nishāñ se achchhī hai

The anonymity while standing in support of truth

Is better than a thousand titles and recognition

The people who raised a voice against CAA in the parliament, on roads and at different platforms made common Muslims believe that the new act would be endangering the very existence of Muslims in the country. The same people stopped caring about the whole issue once students were booked under UAPA. Do they know that CAA is still in force? Do they know that young students have been booked under UAPA? If CAA was a draconian law in December last year what made them forget it completely during the Bihar elections? People who said that citizenship is the primary issue for Muslims moved to distribute sanitizer and PPE kits. Have they changed their stand on CAA? Moreover, where are they as dozens lie behind the bars? The community showed its strength in distributing Biryani but does it care who is paying for huge court bills of all these students. Do people even know how much a Supreme Court Lawyer charges? Do they know in what state their families are? No

When I look at the one year of CAA- NRC protests and imprisonment of my brother I believe that most of the people did not actually believe in the severity of CAA. It was just another issue to extend political, social or economic profile for them. These people will not bother if a few more Muslim students are arrested, rather they will encash if a few are killed as well.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy or position of the organisation.