Anti-CAA student activist writes powerful open letter to India’s Muslim community

Sharjeel Usmani was released on bail on Tuesday 29 August 2020.

The prominent Indian Muslim student activist, Sharjeel Usmani, has written a powerful open letter calling for civil disobedience in light of the ongoing systematic persecution that Muslims of India have been facing.

Mr Usmani was a leading figure in the Anti-Citizenship Act movement which organised huge peaceful protests across India last December and in January.

The former Aligarh Muslim University student was arrested in July and charged under the Goonda Act with assaulting a police officer and stealing a pistol – accusations which he has strongly rejected.

Mr Usmani was released on bail by the Aligarh Sessions Court in all the four cases against him on Tuesday 29 August.

The following letter was posted on Mr Usmani’s official Facebook page:

“Salam

“I thank each one of you for praying for me and my family. It is only because of your support and prayers that I am able to write to you all. It was not possible for me to write from jail. In a country that celebrates the writings of its leaders which were written in jail, political prisoners are not allowed to own pen and paper. I had to wait to write to you.

“Wait is a generous word, it demands one to stay where one is until a particular time or event. It denotes impatience and commands patience. To wait is the right thing to do, most of the time. We, however, aren’t living in a time that can be included in “most of the time”. We are in fact past all the fields that could hold us back to wait for the trouble to end. The cost of waiting is too much, perhaps more than everything we own. But what do we own? Nothing that could be summed up as a dignified living. To wait is also a choice we make. Everything we own, we lose depends on the choices we have made. We choose what is convenient, most of the time. But, as I said, we aren’t living in a time that can be included in “most of the time”. To not choose what is convenient is sacrifice. To sacrifice is even more generous than waiting. It is to give up something valuable. Now, I urge, is the time to give up waiting.

“Ever since the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, Muslims in India have faced a systematic, yet chaotic form of cruel oppression. Our membership in the India society has been cancelled, informally, and the cancellation is lined up to be formalised with the duo of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizenship (NRC). The manifestation of our informally cancelled membership from the Indian society is multi-fold. From the ongoing witch-hunting of activists, students and citizens by the Indian law enforcement agencies, to the dominantly hateful Hindutva cultural symbols, to the ongoing and unending lynchings – it all is to warn us of the declaration that our lives and everything related to our lives is of no value. Forgive me for revealing that what possesses no value is taken for granted.

“Our response to this unjust calculation is convenient. It must also be unsatisfactory, I suspect. Rohit bhai in his last letter wrote “the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind”. Our valuation is even worse. A number in a list with the header “total deaths”. A thing with no value, and no life. I apologize for being repetitive but everything we own and we lose depends upon the choices we have made. This is where I have disagreements. I have disagreements with our affinity for our convenient response. We also call it “our fight” while describing it.

“Our response altogether has been of an abiding citizens. To a government that does not consider your being, and has proactively worked to ensure that your life be taken for granted by your fellow citizens; we respond by being law abiding. In close quarters, we also wait. Wait for all of this to get over. We secretly, and collectively pray that this government is defeated in the upcoming elections. Even if this government is mysteriously defeated, there exists no immediate cure for the alarming mass radicalization of Hindus. We also try to fool ourselves by repeating “everything would be alright, we have people on our side, we have allies” over and over again into our own ears. We might as well have the whole world on our side, but that would mean nothing if our entire response is – to wait. With our allies, we patiently wait.

“I am not sure if it has to be spoken out loud, but, I feel that now is the time to be rogue. Nobody cares about the law abiding attitude of the persecuted in an excellently functional lawless society. Muslim activists do not exist to count the dead bodies of their fellow brothers and sisters, to pressurise the government to release every next person incarcerated, and then celebrate their release after several months of illegal imprisonment. In case we didn’t notice, with every one person released, there are dozens going in. One can only pressurise someone who cares. This particular government, my dear people, does not care. Students, in their college, sit on hunger strike against a new rule because they have faith that the college administration would not let them die. The same is not the case with this government.

“We cannot pressurise oppressors to not oppress. We can only compel them, force them. Fifty years from today, if our history is written accurately, we will find two sets of people in our community. The bad ones and the good ones. The bad ones would be those who remained silent throughout our persecution, the good ones would be those who waited for the persecution to happen only to condemn it with empty slogans, colourful posters and routinely boring hashtags. Fifty years from now, people would not be very pleased with even the good ones such as me.

“I urge you to give up on waiting. I urge you to join the fight while you can. I urge you to present before this government and its followers an option to mass-arrest and mass-lynch hundreds or thousands or whatever number of people who are willing to actually fight back. That is the choice we’ve to make. If this is not possible today, let us all work to make it possible whenever it can be possible. This oppression is not going to end anytime soon. Hindutva must be defeated for a just society to exist. We need civil disobedience.

“Jīs khet se dahqan ko mayassar nahīñ rozī,
Us khet ko har Khoshā e Gandum ko jalā do.

“In solidarity,

Sharjeel Usmani”

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