‘I Was Called a Terrorist From Shaheen Bagh’: Sharjeel Usmani

Sharjeel claims he wasn’t questioned about the charges that were made against him, but about his links with Kashmir.

Updated
India
4 min read

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

“Aap ke liye jo log jail mein hai, jinn logo ne aapke liye lada hai, unke chehre mat bhooliyega (Do not forget the faces of those who fought for you and are languishing in jail),” said Sharjeel Usmani, a 23-year old anti-CAA activist, who was arrested by Uttar Pradesh ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad), on 8 July 2020, in connection with the violence that broke out on AMU campus on 15 December 2019.

Usmani was granted bail on Wednesday, 2 September, by an Aligarh Sessions Court in cases ‘682’ and ‘697’ under sections 153A, 147, 188, 353 of IPC, and 67 of the IT Act.

The sections included promotion of communal disharmony, unlawful assembly, disobedience of directions of the public servant, and assault against public servants.

“The academic records of the accused manifest that he has been a bright student,” said Special Judge Narendra Singh, while granting bail to Usmani.

The court order further stated, “The bail conditions are hereby allowed subject to the conditions that the accused will not tamper with the evidence and he will be present, either personally or through his counsel, before the trial court when he is asked as such.”

The Quint spoke at length with Usmani, during which he narrated his experiences in jail, how his family dealt with his arrest as well as the future of the anti-CAA movement.

What Happened on the Night of 8 July?

“My family and I were psychologically prepared for that day since 15 December... I knew something might happen, but I wasn’t prepared for the ATS to arrest me,” said Usmani, recalling the fateful night.

“ATS has a different style of arresting, they dress up as a vegetable vendor or pretend to buy medicines from a pharmacy, and then suddenly they surround you with a pistol in their hand,” he added.

Usmani said he was blindfolded and all his personal belongings were confiscated, which included his mobile phone and laptop from his house in Azamgarh. Usmani’s family wasn’t aware of his whereabouts for almost 24 hours.

“They had told me that my family had been informed about my arrest, but they weren’t... I wasn’t aware that they illegally searched my house and picked up my personal belongings,” he said.

“If I am accused of something, then I should be held responsible, and not my family... my family has its rights and the state shouldn’t have played with their dignity,” said Usmani.

‘I Was Asked About Kashmir, Not AMU’

Usmani said that he was interrogated by the ATS and not the local police. He claims that he wasn’t questioned about the charges that were made against him, but about his links with Kashmir.

“They asked me why I have so many friends from Kashmir, they asked me whether I have any connection with Shadab Munna (named changed), someone they claim they arrested from a Madrasa in Nepal. I said no. They just asked me about AMU once for reference,” said Usmani, about the ATS interrogation.

Violence erupted on AMU campus on night of 15 December 2019.
Violence erupted on AMU campus on night of 15 December 2019.
(Photo: PTI)
Talking about the online privacy of activists, Usmani said that ‘privacy naam ki koi cheez nahi hai hamare phone mein (there is no such thing called privacy for us).’

“They have our WhatsApp chats... they read my chats to me, they listen to all our calls, they listen to internet calls, it wasn’t easy and it was stressful,” said Usmani.

‘In Jail, You Won’t Even Get a Pen & Paper’

“Hum azaad hue 70 saal ho gaye, par jail mein likhne ko pen-paper ke liye taras jayenge (We got freedom 70 years ago, but in jail, you won’t even get a pen-paper),” Usmani said.

Talking about conditions in jails, Usmani said that all the evils that are prevalent in our society are present in our jails in an organic form, like the caste system. He said that “there's no value of human life in jails.”

“Rooms in jails are congested. A space for 40 people is filled with 145 inmates, so we hear things that are said about everyone. I have been called 'Shaheen Bagh wala aatankwadi' (I was called the terrorist from Shaheen Bagh),” he added.

Usmani claims that he wasn’t allowed to meet his family over the past two months, and that he was allowed to make one call per week. He said that he didn’t see his mother in the past six months but she was brave throughout.

“She is psychologically strong, she is proud of me, but if some relative would call her and ask about me, she would break down,” said Usmani.

‘This Isn’t My Freedom, It’s the State’s Defeat’

Talking about his newfound freedom, Usmani said that: “This shouldn't be celebrated. First, you are troubling someone for no reason. I don't want to call it a victory, because it's not a victory. It means the state has been defeated.”

“They tried their best to keep us in jail, they put all their resources to work, but they failed, so this freedom shouldn’t be celebrated. If we are presenting this suffering as a victory, that means we have already lost this fight,” he added.

‘CAA-NRC Fight Isn’t Mine Alone’

Usmani said that he isn’t worried about the CAA-NRC movement fizzling out and said that our democracy is strong enough to fight against it because it is a ‘collective fight’ and not his alone.

He said that people in this movement cannot be directed and if somebody takes on the role of a leader, they will be called ‘masterminds’ because of which people will suffer.

Anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh
Anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh
(Photo: PTI)

“The anti-CAA protest was an organic movement, it bloomed like a mushroom everywhere, it will flourish again, I am not worried about it,” Usmani said, smiling.

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!