Hyderabad: If you speak against the government, you will be sent to jail – this is the message being sent out by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party -led (BJP) union government, believe activists. Indiscriminate arrests of activists and journalists critical of the government under the draconian anti-terror laws, are an indication of the intolerance by the ruling dispensation against dissent.
And one of the many activists who was arrested in that manner was student activist, Asif Iqbal Tanha, who was granted bail by the Delhi high court in connection with the north-east Delhi riots “conspiracy” case just days ago. In an exclusive interview with Siasat.com, he spoke about the devastating effects of a media trial on arrested activists like him, who are yet to be proven guilty.
“I was not the only one who went through a media trial, the whole anti-CAA/NRC (Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens) movement went through this, they(mainstream news channels) tried to defame and crush the whole movement,” Asif Iqbal Tanha said. Tanha, a student of Jamia Milia Islamia University was arrested in May last year and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
The anti-CAA/NRC protestor added that these media trials are very unfortunate, as he was called a ‘traitor, a ‘terrorist’ and all other sorts of names. “These news channels somehow makeup fake cases and conspiracy theories of their own, and we have taken up this issue with the high court,” he said.
Moreover, the student activist said that these media trials also have an effect on the judicial proceedings and on people’s minds. This disgraceful attitude of the media, according to Asif Iqbal Tanha, puts a lot of pressure and fear on the families of undertrials languishing in jails.
“The judgments by high courts have been a tight slap on the face of mainstream media,” he added, referring to the verdicts that high courts across the nation gave in favor of the arrested activists.
Hate and the future of the anti-CAA/NRC movement
For the past few years, Asif claimed, hatred is being deliberately spread against Muslims in the country, especially by the media. When asked about what it’s like to be a vocal Muslim in Modi’s “new India” he said, “In a situation where we are always suspects in everyone’s eyes, being vocal in such testing times was a big thing.” The anti-CAA/NRC activist believed that Muslims by nature are against injustice and oppression.
Furthermore, Asif added that it’s not just about Muslims, but that it’s about all youngsters who want to save the constitution, the nation, and India’s ganga-jamuni-tehzeeb (unity with diversity and acceptance of each other’s differences). He said everyone should be ready to fight for “what’s right”.
With regard to the future of the anti-CAA/NRC movement, the activist said that continuing the protest while the ongoing pandemic is still running wild is not possible. “We have to change the pattern, after planning and discussion, and with everyone’s consensus, (we) will take the movement forward.”
Experience in Jail
Being released 13 months after his arrest, Asif said that he never experienced fear and his determination never wavered, as he had a lot of moral support from organizations, friends and his family, and God.
When he called home, his family’s reaction was normal as they according to him, said “it’s okay, you are in jail, and didn’t do anything wrong and you’ll come out soon.” Every time he spoke to his friends, the student leader said that they always assured him that there were trying their best to get him bail.
Asif said that he had realized that if they (political prisoners) would break and lose hope, the people outside who have expectations from them will get scared, “if we break, the people will always be fearful of raising their voices again,” he added. “I was lucky to have my mother’s love, friend’s support and spiritual assistance from God,” the Jamia activist said.