Across the room, my old mother is sitting on a single bed, called a diwan. Her face shows no emotion at the moment. Her wrinkles are hiding the sorrow of her heart. In front of her, I try to keep a smile across my face, an exercise in which I rarely fail. But, deep inside, we both know about the state of our hearts.
It has been a year since we have had a ‘normal’ dinner or a moment of joy. How can a mother be normal, whose son has been imprisoned without committing a crime? How can a brother be happy whose only brother is behind bars for speaking the truth?
The last year, for me, is a story of melancholy, betrayal and realization of life.
It was early November in 2019, one day my brother Sharjeel Imam, on a telephone call, told me that he was disturbed at the proposed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). A far more well-read person than me, I always listened to Imam’s political ideas with attention. It was during this phone call, that I came to realize the exact draconian nature of the proposed act.
Soon, I came to know through my brother, and media reports, that the students, intellectuals and a few politicians in Delhi had started campaigning against the bill. The government was adamant on passing the bill while several scholars and political activists were opposing it for being anti-Muslim.
My brother believed with a few Muslim Members of Parliament it was difficult for Muslims to get heard by the government. If Muslims wished to be heard they needed large scale protests in order to get their apprehensions heard. With this view, to form a public opinion against the bill, my brother along with other Delhi based students started distributing pamphlets explaining the dangers from the proposed bill.
It must be noted that my brother was not the only person to believe that the bill was an attempt at rendering millions of Indian Muslims stateless. Several activists and scholars were agitating and writing against the bill. Meanwhile, on 8th December, 2019, a public meeting was organized at Jantar Mantar. Activists like Yogendra Yadav, Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi and others along with Sharjeel discussed the strategies to pressurize the government to roll back the bill.
On 11th December 2019, the bill was passed in both the houses of the Parliament and became an act the next day. During the parliamentary debates, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi tore down a copy of the bill to showcase the anger of the Muslim community against the bill.
It is needless to say that this act of tearing down the bill was a watershed in the protests. It was the moment when most of the Muslims believed that the CAA is an existential issue. Protests started by the students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were soon joined by the Muslims across the country.
On 15th December, 2019, Delhi Police brutally lathi-charged and fired tear gas at the peaceful protesting students of JMI.
That very night, Sharjeel Imam with a handful of people sat on a road in Shaheen Bagh. This single act was going to define the whole course of CAA-NRC protests. This sit-in protest later attained an iconic stature among the people protesting against the CAA.
Sharjeel believed and kept asking people that they should emulate Shaheen Bagh protest in their own areas rather than thronging at a single site. To his dismay, outside Delhi, at very few places, people blocked any road to pressurize the government. On 16th January, 2020, Republic TV ran a sting against Sharjeel, calling him the Mastermind of Shaheen Bagh. Soon afterwards, one of his speeches delivered at AMU was edited and circulated on Social Media.
FIRs were filed against him for sedition. Assam, and later Delhi as well, pressed charges under UAPA against him. On 28th January 2020, Sharjeel surrendered in front of Delhi Police at his native Village Kako in Jehanabad.
He was the first, in the series of many, to have been arrested for protesting against CAA-NRC. Since then several activists – Umar Khalid, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Asif Tanha, Safura Zargar, and others, had been arrested under UAPA.
It has been one year since the, and I wonder, what is the outcome of these protests?Many young beautiful minds are languishing behind bars, with an uncertain future while the political leadership of Muslims has completely failed them.
The same people who wrote, and spoke about how the CAA-NRC protests were a moment of unity among the Muslims have vanished in thin air. The politician who had torn down the copy of the bill in the Parliament did not even mention CAA-NRC as an important issue in any of his speeches during the Bihar elections last year.
None of the so-called politicians or celebrities cared to call on or visit the families of jailed activists. Rather, the politicians and celebrities who used Shaheen Bagh or JMI stages to enhance their popularity as champions of secularism and human rights have rarely mentioned the names of those jailed.
Meeran Haider, a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) office bearer, has been completely forgotten by his own party. The people who claimed that CAA-NRC is an existential issue for Muslims don’t talk about it anymore. After feeding dozens of young people to jail they have moved to other important tasks, like Bihar and Bengal elections.
Does any political activist visit us? Does anyone ask about our mental state? Does any politician come forward to express solidarity? Does any intellectual ask how people are paying the lawyers? Does anyone now ask what happened to CAA-NRC? The answer to all the above questions is NO.
After one year, I can say that my brother, Sharjeel Imam, and others, have wasted their energies for a dead community. This community maintains distance from those who have dared to challenge the government for the interest of the people. This community deserves the leaders who throw them under the bus. After one year, I am looking at my mother as she doesn’t want to look into my eyes for the fear that she will break down.
(Author is the younger brother of Sharjeel Imam. A Masters in Journalism, he is into active politics in Bihar.)