JNU student and IIT-B alumnus, Sharjeel Imam has been arrested for Sedition for making hateful speech at Aligarh Muslim University. To save the Muslims of Northeast, he was advocating cutting off Assam by blocking the Siliguri Corridor (also called Chicken-Neck Corridor) – the remark that has spurred controversy in India.
Crux of the Matter
Who is Sharjeel Imam? Sharejeel Imam, who was born in Bihar’s Kako, is an IIT Bombay Alumnus and is currently a Ph.D. student in Modern Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He often writes for The Wire, The Quint, and Firstpost. His father Akbar Imam, a Janata Dal (JDU) leader, was good friends with Bihar’s CM Nitish Kumar.
He has been one of the primary organizers of Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protests until stepping back from the protests on January 2 on grounds of political interference. His controversial speech at Aligarh Muslim University brought him into the limelight.
Imam’s Speech Video of Sharjeel Imam addressing crowds at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), allegedly protesting against CAA and NRC in Uttar Pradesh on January 16, 2020, surfaced. In the 40 minutes long speech there were parts in which he is seen to be making contentious remarks about cutting off Assam forever or at least for a month or two from mainland India to save the Muslims of that region. He talks about gathering 5 lakh people and blocking the supplies to the State by methods like spilling mavad(pus) on the railway tracks to stop train movement to Assam. He asserts that the chicken-neck corridor belongs to Muslims and that blocking it could be the only way the voice of Muslims is heard.
See his statement. Have you seen the video of Sharjeel? It is more dangerous than Kanhaiya Kumar’s statement. He (Sharjeel) is talking about cutting off the Chicken’s Neck to disintegrate Assam from India. Even seven generations would not be able to do that.
– Union Home Minister Amit Shah
In other parts of his address, he has not spared either the government or the Left, or the Congress party. According to him, “Congress has been responsible for the wretched situation of Muslims”. Targeting Kanhaiya Kumar, he said “people like him are using Muslims to get leverage in politics…[they] get their photos clicked, raise slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and become the face, while nothing productive has ever come out of such things.”
He condemned the actions of Communists in West Bengal and Kerala. Imam even pointed out the violence that the ABVP as well as CPI (M) resorts to by citing an example of JNU in which students were beaten up.
His adamant and vocal stance on his exclusivist Muslim identity along with his supremacist remarks at AMU have caused uproar the nation.
The ‘Chicken Neck ‘ belongs to the Muslims.
– Sharjeel Imam in the speech at AMU
Imam Booked for Hate Speech Delhi, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh have filed charges against him.
Assam has charged Imam with Sedition under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) along with Section 153A and 153 B under the same Code. He has also been booked for abetting terrorist activities (Section 18) and soliciting unlawful activities Section (13 (1)) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Delhi Police filed FIR against him under Section 153 of IPC for provocating for riots, abetting religious disharmony and Sedition.
UP Police has filed a case against him for Sedition and soliciting and creating conflict between religious groups. Manipur charged him for abetting war against the Indian government and unlawful activities along with Sedition.
Arunachal Pradesh also booked him under Sections 124(A), 153(A), and 153(B).
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 CM Pema Khandu
Why Does Imam’s Arrest Matter? Crime Branch, Delhi Police, arrested Imam from Jehanabad in Bihar. Sharjeel Imam, however, on his Twitter handle posted that he has surrendered to Delhi Police.
According to supporters of Shaheen Bagh, Imam’s arrest comes at a time when the government is looking for a scapegoat of the tukde tukde gang to deliver a message against anti-CAA protests. His chicken-neck remark has caught attention. Siliguri corridor, as it is actually called, has been seen as a geographic vulnerability of India. Adversaries like China and Pakistan have planned to to cutoff Northeast from mainland India by exploting this vulnerability in sensitive warlike situations.
He is being criticized for not just using language that can be considered hate speech but also giving practical strategic frameworks and action points that are not in line with the nation’s interest. With more and more student activists from JNU becoming vocal about issues that can help them get a launch in politics, the timing and position of Imam do not seem unprecedented, considering the history of JNU.
Chicken’s Neck – The Siliguri Corridor, or Chicken’s Neck, is a narrow stretch of land of about 22 kilometers, located in the Indian state of West Bengal, that connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India, with the countries of Nepal and Bangladesh lying on either side of the corridor. The Kingdom of Bhutan lies on the northern side of the corridor.
The formation of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, created a geographical barrier to the northeastern part of India. The narrow Siliguri Corridor, which at one point is less than 27 kilometres wide, remained as the only bridge between the northeastern part of India and the rest of the country. Wedged between Bangladesh to the south and west and China to the north, the region has no access to the sea closer than Kolkata, on the other side of the corridor. Between Sikkim and Bhutan lies the Chumbi Valley, a dagger-like slice of Tibetan territory. A Chinese military advance of less than 130 kilometres would cut off Bhutan, part of West Bengal and all of North-East India, an area containing almost 50 million people. This situation arose during the war between India and China in 1962.
All land transportation between mainland India and its far northeastern states uses this circuitous corridor, as there is no free-trade agreement between Bangladesh and India. The Tetulia Corridor, an alternative to the Siliguri Corridor, is proposed under Article VIII of the India–Bangladesh Trade Agreement 1980, which states that “The two governments agree to make mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways, railways and roadways for commerce between the two countries and for passage of goods between two places in one country through the territory of the other”. However, the proposal is still in the initial stages of negotiation. More Info
The current resolutions that focus on CAA are being introduced by 6 political groups representing a total of 626 of the total 751 members of the European Parliament. These will be taken up for discussion and voting this week.
According to the agenda of the plenary meet, the European Commission Vice-President Mr. Josep Borell will first deliver a statement on ‘India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019‘. The EU parliament had discussed developments in Jammu & Kashmir in September 2019 but had not ended in a vote. 22 EU MEPs had visited Srinagar in October 2019.
The groups that have filed resolutions include the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) with 182 members, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament with 154 members, the Renew Group with 108 members.
The European Parliament (EP) is the legislative branch of the European Union and one of its seven institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union, it adopts European legislation, normally on a proposal from the European Commission. The Parliament is composed of 751 members (MEPs), intended to become 705 starting from the 2019–2024 legislature because of specific provisions adopted about Brexit, who represent the second-largest democratic electorate in the world (after the Parliament of India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world (375 million eligible voters in 2009). More Info
The Enforcement Directorate has found a ‘financial link’ between the recent violent Anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala-based Popular Front of India. ED suspects that these funds were used by PFI to fuel anti-CAA protests in various parts of UP.
Crux of the Matter
The agency is probing the Popular Front of India (PFI) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) since 2018 and it has found that nearly Rs.120 crores were deposited in bank accounts in western UP after the Act was passed by Parliament.
The ED sources found that the funds deposited in the bank were routed from some foreign shores and then sent in the accounts of certain investment firms. ED has shared these findings with the Union Home Ministry.
The UP police have sought a ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI). A National Investigation Agency’s FIR and charge sheet against the PFI had formed the basis for the ED to file a PMLA case against it.
The Popular Front of India (PFI) is an extremist and militant Islamic fundamentalist organization in India formed as a successor to National Development Front in 2006. It acquired a multi-state dimension by merging with the National Development Front and other organizations. The PFI describes themselves as a neo-social movement committed to empowering people to ensure justice, freedom, and security. PFI claims to work in cooperation with the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations in a bid to curb human rights violations in the nation. Since its inception, the organization has been accused of various antisocial and anti-national activities. More Info
India has been a home to refugees for centuries. When Parsis faced religious persecution during 12th – 16th Century, refugees from the community came and settled in Gujarat. India went through a turbulent refugee crisis during partition. Nearly 10 million people were dislodged and they became refugees migrating through the overflowing borders. The migration was a picture in red and black – massacre and violence.
It seems that people of the Indian subcontinent are still paying for the two-nation theory that created India and Pakistan in 1947. Independent India created a citizenship law to tackle swarms of illegal migrants. The 1955 Citizenship Act laid out the mechanisms for acquiring Indian Citizenship which is governed by Articles 5 to 11 of the Indian Constitution.
In 1971, Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan, was a victim of mass genocide called “Operation Searchlight” carried out by Pakistan in order to wipe out the Bengali Movement in the state. In the 9-month long pogrom, anywhere between 3 lac to 3 million civilians were massacred and more than 10 million refugees rushed to India’s West Bengal, Assam and other nearby states as well as to Myanmar. This triggered the 1971 war between India and Pakistan which led to the bifurcation of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh.
A decade later, the menace of Bangladeshi refugees started creeping up in the states of North East, especially Assam. In 1979 the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) started a movement to save the indigenous culture and drive out refugees, who comprised majorly of Bengalis. It culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1986 by the then Rajiv Gandhi government. Citizenship Laws became stricter with the 1986 amendment to the Citizenship Act. Individuals born in India could only be considered a citizen if either of their parents was an Indian citizen.
Vigilance on the India – Bangladesh border became stricter. In accordance to the Assam Accord, the amended Citizenship Act aimed at driving out illegal immigrants who had entered India after March 25, 1971.
The term that is creating controversy today “illegal migrants” was added to the Act in the 2003 Amendment by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. Its definition was added to the Act and the following major changes were made:
If either of the parents of a child born in India after 2003 were illegal migrants, the child was not to be considered an Indian Citizen.
Between 1987-2003, Indian citizenship could be granted to a child whose either parent held Indian Citizenship.
Whereas, prior to 1987, anyone born in India was considered Indian Citizen.
Illegal immigrants could not apply for Indian Citizenship through Registration.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, then in the Opposition, criticized the Bill and said in 2003 that “”India’s stance towards persecuted minorities be most liberal.” Other amendments in 2005 and 2015 to the Bill were linked to the Overseas Citizenship Clause in the Act.
2003 Amendment also mandated Government to conduct a nation-wide National Register of Citizens and issue a national identity card to each citizen. NRC was not much deliberated after 2003 until 2008’s 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The Congress-led UPA Government decided to go with Aadhaar identification rather than NRC. Along with Census 2010, National Population Register was carried out. However, the UPA government did not take any steps to conduct NRC.
NRC in Assam is an entirely different issue. It has been mandated by the Supreme Court since 1986 to make sure Assam Accord gets honoured.
BJP-led NDA government’s Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, seems like a policy that is on the other side of the spectrum when compared with former NDA government’s 2003 amendments. Attributing circumstantial elements to the different stances, this amendment eases the citizenship requirements for immigrants from certain “religiously persecuted” communities. It will not consider “illegal” immigrants who have entered India before 31st December 2014 and who are from Hindu, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, Christian, Budhha religions as “illegal” and will grant them citizenship. Furthermore, naturalization period for these persecuted minorities has been reduced to 5 years instead of 11. The 11 year naturalisation period is still applicable to every other immigrant.
Looking at the timeline of amendments, it seems that changing circumstances as well as generational demographic shifts have coincided with changes in the citizenship requirements as mandated by the government of India.
Operation Searchlight was a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistan Army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in the erstwhile East Pakistan in March 1971, which the Pakistani state retrospectively justified on the basis of anti-Bihari violence by Bengalis in early March. Ordered by the central government in West Pakistan, this was seen as the sequel to “Operation Blitz” which had been launched in November 1970. The original plan envisioned taking control of all of East Pakistan’s major cities on 26 March, and then eliminating all Bengali opposition, political or military, within one month. Pakistani President Yahya Khan at a conference in February 1971 said “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.” Prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by the Pakistani military leaders. The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major Bengali-held town in mid-May. The operation also precipitated the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, in which 300,000-3,000,000 civilians were killed and roughly 10 million refugees fled to India. Bengali intelligentsia, academics and Hindus were targeted for the harshest treatment, with significant indiscriminate killing taking place. These systematic killings enraged the Bengalis, who declared independence from Pakistan, to establish the new nation of Bangladesh. More Info
2019 has witnessed some reforms centered around the Muslims of India. If Triple Talaq and Education & Haj Schemes lifted the spirits of the Muslim Community, Abrogation of Article 370, Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid Land Dispute, and Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 may have balanced out the sentiments of the community. Let us dive deeper into how different policies, acts, and decisions shaped the outlook.
Crux of the Matter
Triple Talaq Criminalised Family Affairs of the Muslim Community of India are governed by Muslim Personal Law. Triple Talaq or Talaq-e-biddat is a practice pronounced in the Sharia Law. Muslim marriages permit divorce if either spouse announces ‘Talaq’ thrice. There have been contentious issues revolving around the time that ought to be given between each announcement, the right of Muslim women to pronounce Triple Talaq, and the responsibility of the financial security of the family. Historically, Ulamas – Muslim scholars – have held opposing views about it. Some modern-day Muslim scholars have said that despite being hollow on legal grounds, this law is binding. We must note that Triple Talaq is banned in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Supreme Court, in 2017, rendered the practice of Triple Talaq unconstitutional. 2 members, who opposed the ban on Triple Talaq, of the 5-judge bench had, however, recommended that the decision be passed as a law in the Parliament. On 26 July 2019, Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed. It stated that “instant Triple Talaq” announced in whatever form – written, spoken or via Email or SMS, will be considered illegal and stand void. The husband, who announced it, could be imprisoned up to three years.
This law, on the grounds of constitutionality and human rights, was hailed by Muslim women of India. Muslim Scholars and Incumbents also welcomed the government’s decision. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi objected to the imprisonment clause of the Bill and said that the Bill did not meet its primary objective of safeguarding women’s security, chiefly financial. The government stood their ground and said that the victimization of women would be reduced.
In a state where 67% of the population is Muslim, a chill ran across the community with the abrogation of Article 370. Some Muslims were apprehensive that scrapping of the Act would invite a lot of outsiders to settle in the state and were of the opinion that their privilege was lost in an unconstitutional manner. Whereas, some Muslims praised the decision of the government and asserted that the discrimination against them will no longer exist and their children will have access to better education and economy.
On a different note, the Indian government received criticism for the way in which the whole operation was carried out. Internet shutdown and curb on mobile and telephone services were major contentions for the government.
Do only Muslims live in Jammu and Kashmir? No Hindus? No Buddhists? Why is it viewed like that? It has been abrogated for veryone and not only for Muslims.
– Amit Shah on abrogation of Article 370
Ayodhya Land Dispute The long-standing Ayodhya Land Verdict that divided Hindus and Muslims of India came in the year 2019 with the Supreme Court stating that the land would be given to Hindus for Ram temple construction and Muslims will get a 5-acre land at a different place to build a mosque.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the SC ordered and said, “There has been discrimination against Muslims and no one can deny it. We are fighting for our legal rights.”. Many Muslims were affirmative about upholding SC’s decision as it was based on evidence and rationale.
Citizenship Amendment Act Interpretation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the speculation of the National Register of Citizens by some has shaped apprehension that the process is a concentrated effort to drive out Muslims of the country. The Act now provides citizenship to illegal immigrants from certain religiously persecuted minorities.
Ruling party BJP has time and again asserted that the law will not affect the citizens of India. Home Minster Amit Shah said, “In this Bill, there is no proposal to touch the citizenship of any Muslim,”.
Government Policies In the year 2019 BJP 2.0 has launched and revamped various policies for the upliftment of Muslims. In the Education sector, the government notified merit-cum-means, pre-matric, post-matric, and various other scholarships for minority communities that also include Muslims. The government also started trained more than 750 teachers from Madras so that they can also impart formal education. “Besides traditional teachings in Madrasa, Urdu, Arabic and other languages, Madrasa teachers are also being provided training for mainstream formal education like Hindi, Maths, English, Science, Computer, regional languages etc. These teachers are being provided training from reputed institutions of the country such as IIT, Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard, Anjuman-e-Islam, Amity University and other reputed educational institutes,” said Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Government also took interest in digitizing the entire Haj process so as to give the travelers a transparent process. India launched E-MASIHA, an acronym for E Medical Assistance System for Indian Pilgrims Abroad. It was a database of Indian pilgrims’ health conditions. A record-breaking 2 lakh Muslims had visited Haj in 2019.
Waqf properties across India were also brought under digitization by the Indian government. Government has a target of geo-tagging as many as 6 lakh Waqf properties to ensure better utilization of them.
Triple talaq, also known as talaq-e-biddat, instant divorce and talaq-e-mughallazah (irrevocable divorce), was a form of Islamic divorce which has been used by Muslims in India, especially adherents of Hanafi Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It allowed any Muslim man to legally divorce his wife by uttering the word talaq (the Arabic word for “divorce”) three times in oral, written or, more recently, electronic form. More Info
The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. More Info
A waqf, also known as hubous or mortmain property, is an inalienable charitable endowment under Islamic law, which typically involves donating a building, plot of land or other assets for Muslim religious or charitable purposes with no intention of reclaiming the assets. The donated assets may be held by a charitable trust. The person making such dedication is known as waqif, a donor. More Info