Famous Urdu author Bano Qudsia once wrote; “When the rich and elite of our society feel bored they play among themselves. After this play whatever is bargained is called Inquilab (revolution). Poor and destitute do not benefit from this ‘inquilab’. They only pay a price for this ‘inquilab’. The price paid by them is in the form of their own blood and life.”
I would like to add, that among these poor, we have a further classification between those who pay with their lives and get the recognition and those people whose sacrifices are silenced, or overlooked.
Last year, dozens of young Indians, mostly Muslims, were arrested by the Indian state for protesting against draconian CAA-NRC alleging their role in the Delhi riots of February 2020.
My elder brother Sharjeel was the first and was arrested a month before riots were actually orchestrated. For the last year, we have seen social media hashtags, talks, articles and seminars raising the issue of illegal arrest of these young activists under UAPA.
Scholars, activists and people have argued that these arrests are just another exercise to silence the opposition to the government.
Yours truly, being the brother of Sharjeel Imam, is closely associated with the court proceedings and all the activism around these arrests. For the last one year, I kept writing about Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Safura Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Asif Tanha, Meeran Haider, Gulfisha along with my brother.
During the last hearing, I met a man, Najam, whose nephew, Athar Khan is also charged with UAPA for the same ‘crime’.I was ashamed. I cried.
In this world full of glamour, we have actually discriminated among our frontline activists on the basis of social and economic class. I admit my crime for not trying to know about this young activist. This piece is nothing but an admission of my collusion, unintended though, in silencing the roles of those less privileged, among the activists.
Have we heard of Athar Khan along with the more famous Sharjeel, Umar, Khalid, Devangana and others? No. Why? Because he comes from a family that can’t afford expensive lawyers as his father runs a small spices store.
Athar Khan, who will turn 25 this February 8th, is pursuing distance education (BBA) from Sikkim Manipal University (SMU). When people thronged the streets against CAA, he became a part of the Chand Bagh, Delhi protest site. Khan used to supervise the stage; his only crime according to his mother.
No wonder, an activist who has no social or economic capital and who has no organizational support never trends on social media. Nobody writes about him.
“Pae fatiha koi aae kyuun koi chaar phuul chadhaye kyun,
Koi aa ke shama jalaye kyuun main vo bekasi ka mazar hun.”
(Why would someone pay tributes and put flowers
Why would one light a lamp, I am a shrine of destitution)
This world, of which I am also a part, forgets the very people who fight for the larger cause just because they are not rich and socially well connected. As a society, we should ask ourselves why we don’t know about Athar Khan, as much as we know about Sharjeel, Umar or Khalid. My brother always maintained that his life is not more important than any other life.
Does the pain of Athar’s mother mean less than the pain of my mother or the mother of Umar Khalid? My heart bled when Athar’s mother shed tears on call while talking to me.
“Main nahin hun naghma-e-jan-faza mujhe sun ke koi karega kya,
Main bade birog ki hun sada main bade dukhi ki pukar hun.”
(Why would someone listen to my songs which are unromantic,
My call is full of sickness and sadness)
Today, while meeting his uncle in jail, Athar Khan asked what the activists outside the prison are doing when the government is again starting the process of CAA-NRC. On being told that nobody is talking about the issue anymore and ‘activists’ are focusing on ‘Farmers’ Protests’, Athar Khan lamented and asked, “To kya Humari Qurbani Zaya Gayi” (Does it mean that our sacrifices are a waste?)