Sharjeel Imam Surrenders in Bihar: Is He A Terrorist or Scapegoat?

If one listens to Sharjeel Imam’s full speech, it’s clear he is calling for a chakka jam on roads leading to Assam.

3 min read

Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam surrendered to the Delhi police in at 3 pm on 28 January, and was placed under arrest. Soon after his surrender, he tweeted:

He is said to have been booked for sedition. The police in at least five states had been on the lookout for him ever since a video of his speech in Aligarh went viral.

What Did Sharjeel Imam Do?

The entire controversy is regarding a speech Imam gave in Aligarh. A small excerpt of the speech was shared by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and some media channels, in which he can be heard saying that 5 lakh Muslims should get together and cut Assam off from the rest of India.

The speech is about 40 minutes long. And if one listens to the entire thing, it is quite clear that he is calling for a chakka jam or a blockade of the highways and railways leading to Assam. At no point does he talk about breaking away any part of India.


Does This Qualify as Sedition?

Certainly not. Blockade is a legitimate form of protest in India. In 2008, several Hindutva organisations had blocked the Jammu Srinagar highway during the 2008 Amarnath agitation, cutting Kashmir off from rest of the country.

Did anyone accuse them of separatism? And here, Sharjeel is merely talking about a blockade. The blockade hasn't even taken place.

It is clear that the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, particularly the one in Shaheen Bagh, have rattled the BJP.

For instance, in a rally in Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah said vote for the BJP to teach Shaheen Bagh a lesson.

And the only way to counter the protests there, is by delegitimising Shaheen Bagh.

In the last few weeks, people associated with the BJP have made several allegations about the Shaheen Bagh protest: From calling it a Congress or AAP conspiracy, to saying that protesters are being paid Rs 500 each.

But the crowd at Shaheen Bagh has only increased as have Shaheen Bagh-like protests in rest of the country, with its sea of tricolours and women leading the way.

That's when the government found a convenient scapegoat: Sharjeel Imam.

Is He Being Made a Scapegoat by Govt?

Tou aap chronology samajhiye, first Sharjeel will be declared a terrorist, then he will be projected as the mastermind of Shaheen Bagh and then Shaheen Bagh will be labelled as an anti-national conspiracy.

The truth, however, remains that Sharjeel merely called for a chakka jam, which doesn’t amount to sedition at all. And as it is, Sharjeel had dissociated with the Shaheen Bagh protest on 2 January.

Few Muslim protesters may agree with Sharjeel. Protesters call it a fight for the Constitution, Sharjeel says that they don't understand the Constitution or the CAA. In fact, he says that the Constitution itself has been used to oppress minorities.

Sharjeel calls Gandhi a fascist but many protesters hail the Mahatma as a hero. If Shashi Tharoor objects to the use of La Ilaha illallah in protests, Sharjeel doesn't quite agree with patriotic slogans being used by Muslim protesters.

If Sharjeel is guilty of something at all, it is intellectual arrogance. It is this arrogance that may have driven him to unilaterally call off the Shaheen Bagh protest on 2 January, even though clearly the residents who were protesting didn’t want to do that.

The only punishment for this intellectual arrogance is debate and more debate. As well as a reality check, like the one people of Shaheen Bagh gave him by not following his directive to call off the protest.

But this debate can take place later.

As of now, the main issue is that the government and police appear to be meting out collective punishment to the protesters. This collective punishment could be seen in the manner in which protesters were fired upon and hospitals, neighbourhoods and mosques were attacked. And it is this collective punishment that is being meted out when Sharjeel's family and the families of protesters across the country are harassed for no fault of theirs.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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