From IIT-B to JNU to Shaheen Bagh: Who is Sharjeel Imam?
Sharjeel Imam, a student of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has been charged with sedition and other serious offences by at least five states.
The research scholar at JNU was arrested on Tuesday afternoon from his village in Bihar’s Jehanabad after a three-day hunt by the police from Delhi and the eastern state.
The police action against the IIT-Bombay alumnus came after a video featuring Imam went viral on social media.
Imam had allegedly said on January 16 that if five lakh people came together, they could cut northeast off India. While Imam has since clarified that he was speaking of road blockades, at least five states have filed various charges against him.
Who is Sharjeel Imam?
Sharjeel Imam is pursuing his PhD in modern Indian history at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies (CHS). He is also a computer science graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
Imam is the son of former Janata Dal(United) leader late Akbar Imam. He is the eldest of two brothers and his father contested the assembly elections in Bihar on JD(U) ticket. He died five years ago.
“After remaining in the teaching profession for some time, he joined a software company. He resigned from the service and joined JNU in 2017 do PhD in modern history,” a villager, who did not want to be named, had said earlier.
He was associated with the anti-citizenship law protest in south-east Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh till January 2 when he “called it off” citing political interference.
He had said that he and others were withdrawing from the protests — where locals have blocked a key arterial road to Noida for 18 days — because of “politicisation” and “growing threat” of violence.
“They (political parties) are trying to tarnish the image of the movement,” he said.
But other groups rejected his stance and hundreds of people showed up at the demonstration that has captured the attention of students, activists and civil society across the country but also thrown traffic out of gear.
Which states have filed cases against him?
Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi have filed cases against Imam.
Police in Assam, the first, registered a first information report (FIR) under an anti-terror law against Sharjeel Imam on January 25.
The additional director general of Assam police GP Singh said the FIR was registered against Imam under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act at the crime branch police station in Guwahati.
“An FIR has been lodged against Sharjil Imam for his speech and inter alia commission of offence u/s 13 (1)/18 of the UA(P)ACT read with section 153 A, 153 B and 124 A IPC at Guwahati Crime Branch Police Station,” Singh had tweeted along with the purported video of Imam’s speech.
Imam was booked by police in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh the same day for sedition and creating enmity between different religious groups.
In Manipur, the state police had filed an FIR against Imam for sedition, waging war against the Indian government, conspiracy to commit offences, indulging in vilification or attacks on a particular group.
“Taking cognisance of the objectionable video of Mr Sharjeel Imam, in which he threatened to sever Northeast from the rest of country, the Manipur Police has filed an FIR (No. 16(1)2020 IPS) under sections 121/121-A/124-A/ 120-B /153 IPC,” Rajat Sethi, an advisor to the chief minister N Biren Singh, tweeted on January 25.
Arunachal Pradesh police registered a case of sedition against Sharjeel Imam on Republic Day on January 26.
“This kind of provocation inciting secession of Assam and other northeastern states from India, creating communal disharmony, hampering sovereignty and territorial integrity of India will not be tolerated,” Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu tweeted on Sunday.
The crime branch of Itanagar Police registered a case against Imam under sections 124(A), 153(A) and 153(B) of the Indian Penal Code for sedition, promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language etc.
The crime branch of Delhi Police registered an FIR under IPC’s section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) against the JNU student in addition to charges of sedition and promoting religious enmity.
If convicted under IPC’s Section 124A, Sharjeel Imam could be imprisoned for life.
What does his family say?
Agsan Rahim, his mother, had alleged on Saturday that the media had distorted his statements and the police were “unnecessarily harassing the family.”
“My son is innocent. I do not know about his whereabouts but can swear by God that he is innocent. He is a bright young man. But I can guarantee that upon learning about the cases, he will appear before the investigating agencies and fully cooperate in the probe,” she said.
She had said it has been a long time since she met her son though she talked with him over the phone a few weeks ago.
“He was obviously disturbed by the CAA and fears over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) being implemented across the country which, he said, would affect not just Muslims but all poor people,” she had said.
His uncle Arshad Imam too rued the fact that his nephew’s statements were distorted to “suit the political needs”.
“A 40-second video of the 40-minute speech is being presented. It is being exaggerated. Every Indian has the right to protest,” Arshad Imam, who was also interrogated by the police, said.
War of words
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have sparred over the video clip which shows Sharjeel Imam calling to cut off Assam from the rest of India.
While the opposition party in Delhi targeted the AAP on its stand over the protest, the AAP hit back questioning why the government has not taken action in the matter.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal took on Amit Shah on Monday after the Union home minister wanted to know whether the AAP leader supported Imam.
“You must have watched the video of Sharjeel Imam, he said “cut the chicken neck and cut-off North-East from India” he talked about dividing the country. Modi government told Delhi police and they have registered a sedition case against him,” Shah had said at an election rally in Rithala.
“Kejriwal ji are you in favour of action against Sharjeel Imam or not? Are you in favour of those at Shaheen Bagh or not? Make it clear to the people of Delhi,” Shah said.
Kejriwal then took to Twitter to launch a counter-attack on Amit Shah.
“Sharjeel spoke of separating Assam from the country. It is very serious. You are the home minister of the country. This statement of yours is bad politics. It’s your duty to arrest him immediately. It has been two days since he said this” Kejriwal tweeted.
“Why are you not arresting him? What is your helplessness? Or do you have to do more dirty politics now?” he asked.
The Delhi Police report to the Union home ministry.
The protesters of Shaheen Bagh have disassociated themselves from Imam’s comments and stressed that the speech was not given there.