Opinion: Sharjeel Imam Represents The Voice Of The Oppressed

Much has been said to vilify Sharjeel’s speech at AMU, yet none really have legitimate and valid points to do so: their claims of vilification are substantiated and relied upon on those parts of the speech that have come out as a brow-raiser for the Indian conscience.

For the BJP-RSS affliated people, the proposition of so-called territorial disintegration from Assam have attacked their belief on the immutable sovereign unity of India, which they so sacrosanctly push forward. For the left-liberals and Congress believers, they are mostly affected by the parts where he calls the constitution and Gandhi fascist.

Yet, when you hear them as to what exact arguments Sharjeel proposes when he says constitution as fascist – they are mostly silent. This shows that without having heard the proper context of the speech, arguments and propositions that Sharjeel stated, they clearly vilify him as hurting their ideological sentiments.

To start with, Sharjeel Imam is a PhD scholar at JNU, whose research is on the late colonial Muslim politics in India. He has worked on cow slaughter and communal riots in India. He has had his articles published in The Wire, Firstpost, TRT, Heritage Times and many other platforms and journals. So people saying that his speech was stupid – on what basis?? They don’t say so, or they wish to conceal it.

Sharjeel, in his hour-long speech at AMU, talked about many things. His arguments were stated with historical facts and data, followed by the condemnation of the particular policy/party/system. What I found problematic was the tone of his speech, which was irresponsible, aggressive, and perhaps aggravated the situation.

His stated propositions and historical facts were lost in the ramble of his intense tone of speech. A non-Muslim hearing his speech for the first time would have had vehemently strong and provocative reactions, and some even called him a “deluded man” and so on. Amongst the Muslim community, Sharjeel’s speech has upturned the tables of thought and have divided their stand on him.

Apart from this speech at AMU, Sharjeel had spoken on many other public platforms as well. In Jamia, where he came up with the idea of a chakka jam, at Shaheen Bagh, where he spoke of the times we live in. I am trying to collate his line of thought, what he thinks and how it can be interpreted. I am relying on my memory as to what I remember.

1. He proposed the idea of chakka jam first in the speech he had delivered in Jamia. The advancing policy of the CAA and NRC perhaps augmented his fear of leaving Muslims in a hapless condition. He believed Muslims during these dire times, should stand up and fight the regime dauntingly without moving back an inch.

Marches, candlelight protests at such times would prove to be futile – thus, there is a need to intensify the mode of protest. He believed that a chakka jam (road, way, path blockade) is perhaps a good mode of protest – in the sense that it will have a disruptive effect on the normalcy of urban centers in Delhi (and even outside it).

Blocking off the road or path is not something new and has been performed before – during the 1980s in Assam and Telangana particularly. George Fernandes organised various strikes of railway blockades from trade unionists. Gandhi also followed the same suit of satyagraha, and civil disobedience in during the pre-independence period.

2. He wanted to organise a chakka jam in other parts of the country, as the government takes attention of the intensity of the protest. In AMU, he was talking about how such protests can be organised in different parts of the country. He proposed that Kanhaiya and other prominent leaders who had good public reach could mobilise the protest and lead this forward.

Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. (Photo: mubeen_sidd/Instagram)

3. He sincerely believed that these policies severely affected the Muslim community at large, and they must act upon it. An assertive identity protest is a way forward. This is not to be mistaken as communal one.

In the contemporary scenario, politics that legitimises one’s identity is emerging. One is born with a certain identity, and dies with it. One cannot abnegate one’s identity, as a flippant card trick. Identity of one gives the legitimacy and rationalises the violence of oppression.

Ambedkarite and Dalit politics in India is result of excoriating oppression by Brahmanical forces for ages. Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish Philosopher during the Nazi era (which sponsored the persecution of Jewish people), had varied reactions from the radical self-denial to extreme self-affirmation of one’s identity.

She says in her 1964 interview, “As a child I did not know that I was Jewish… The word ‘Jew’ was never mentioned at home when I was a child. I first met up with it through anti-Semitic remarks… from children on the street. After that I was, so to speak, ‘enlightened.'”

Sharjeel believed that the identity of a Muslim is rooted in one’s theology. A Muslim is a theological being, and should assert their identity as such. The onslaught of the secular and liberal framework has demonized Muslims as conservative, dangerous and unruly.

4. The part where he says that the everyone should come at their own terms to protest with us has been misinterpreted. Sharjeel’s assertive Muslim politics is not exclusive to itself. He has supported the minorities in the campus before and have always assertively come out to protest with them.

However, one’s politics of identity should not pitted against each other and not homogenous in one framework. A Muslim should speak for themselves, since they are experientially and historically equipped to do so. The voice of assertion should come from the marginalised.

When he says that everyone should come on their terms is misinterpreted. It does not mean forced conversion, or forcibly chanting slogans. To give a reference, the history and the discourse of the Dalit community have long been appropriated by savarna thinkers and historians, which did not allow an “authentic” Dalit voice to emerge.

When he says “coming in terms,” it means that the non-Muslims when talking for Muslims should empathise with the histories and experiences of the Muslims, then one can produce an authentic solidarity with them.

Sharjeel Imam’s language comes from the voice of the oppressed, and not the oppressor: an oppressed Muslim, like other voices silenced the by Islamophobic government of the Congress, the left and the BJP for the “past 60 years” (as Sharjeel says in his speech). The language may be angry and aggressive which have angered the non-Muslims, specially the Hindu left, liberals and sanghis equivocally in their own terms.

In a letter dated December 12, 1935, Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Society for the Abolition of Caste System) , a reformist society invited Dr BR Ambedkar to deliver a speech on the caste system in India. He wrote a speech titled ‘Annihilation Of Caste’ and sent it to the organisers in advance ,who found his language so objectionable towards the orthodox Hindu religion, so controversial endangering the Brahmanical community that they demanded the deletion of a large section, to which he said he “would not change a comma” of his text. The event was cancelled.

Will the left, liberal and the ‘tolerant’ India let an assertive Muslim voice speak?

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