Asif Iqbal Tanha
I come from a small village called Ramgarh in Jharkhand. When I was in 5th standard, I shifted to UP, where I completed my 12th standard from a Madrasa. After that, I moved to Delhi to prepare for the entrance examinations of Jamia & Aligarh. However, I was not able to clear them, so I decided to start working. After many struggles, I managed to get a job in a BPO in a company called AIRCEL, where I worked as a tele-caller. Meanwhile, I managed to clear my Jamia entrance exam which was the happiest moment of my life, as I had finally fulfilled my father’s dream.
But I continued to work for 3 months even after taking admission.
By that time, I had saved enough money to support myself. Soon, I quit my job & dedicated my entire time to Jamia’s library. During that time, there was a movement for union election which was banned for the last 12 years. I met & spoke to different people who were passionate about this issue, which introduced me to student politics. I was motivated to speak on public issues.
The first time I protested outside my university campus was when Najeeb Ahmad went missing. I protested in front of CBI headquarters as well as Jantar Mantar. This protest provided me the impetus to move beyond campus issues. The continuous cases of mob lynching propelled me into full time activism. But my studies were affected by this so were my finances. So, I decided to slow down. You see, there is a financial aspect of activism which no one sees. The travel and food costs start piling up, which became a serious impediment to my work.
That is when CAA was passed. I was deeply appalled and started protesting against the unconstitutional & anti-Muslim law. The police were cracking down on the protesters and were indiscriminately using tear gas & lathi charge. On 12th of December, they detained more than 40 students and on 15th December, several students and activists were gravely injured. On the 16th, we decided to March from Jamia to Parliament. The Police became increasingly agitated and aggressive, and that is when they entered the Jamia library and started beating students who were reading & studying peacefully.
This movement led to the Shaheen Bagh protests. The Government did not care to reach out to the protestors. We tried to initiate dialogue but received only vile defamation. One horrifying consequence of this crackdown was the Delhi riots. People were dying & the government did not make any effort to control the riots. We were praying but nobody heard. Delhi Police started an investigation, which was already being done by the Crime Branch. When the case was transferred to a special cell, they invoked UAPA to suppress and penalize those who were vocal during CAA protests. I was also arrested under UAPA and it is nothing short of a miracle that I came out of jail in 13 months. Our judgment reinforced the faith of people in the judiciary.
The saddest moment of my life was the first day & first night of life in prison. Being the only son, I used to call Ammi every day. But after being imprisoned, I could not speak to her for 3 months. The lack of human contact and any distraction led to a spiral of overthinking: how would Ammi live? Who will give her solace? What would be her source of strength?
My struggle is twofold. One, to get a stable job and a steady source of income. The other is a wider struggle- to fight with fascist forces. We want to spread love, to fulfill the dreams of our forefathers. The rising hatred and animosity between people are terrifying. So I will always stand up for what I think is right. And I will continue to struggle. The form may change- if not physically, then through my writing. But it will stay.