Our movement against CAA-NRC remains alive: Asif Iqbal Tanha on activism, faith, and Tihar

28 June 2021
Asif Iqbal Tanha after he was released from Delhi's Tihar Jail, on 17 June 2021. Tanha, a student activist, spent over a year in prison, charged under a case related to an alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence in Delhi in February 2020.
XAVIER GALIANA / AFP / Getty Images
Asif Iqbal Tanha after he was released from Delhi's Tihar Jail, on 17 June 2021. Tanha, a student activist, spent over a year in prison, charged under a case related to an alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence in Delhi in February 2020.
XAVIER GALIANA / AFP / Getty Images

Asif Iqbal Tanha, a 25-year-old student activist, was arrested in May 2020, in connection to violence that broke out at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act a few months earlier. Tanha, a student of Persian at the university, actively participated in protests against the CAA. The Delhi Police met the protests at Jamia with a brutal police crackdown on students, including tear gas and lathi charges. Later, it registered first-information reports accusing student protestors of violence. Tanha was named and arrested under one such FIR.

He was subsequently arrested in relation to the communal violence that swept northeast Delhi in February 2020. Tanha was named in the FIR 59, a case investigated by the Delhi Police special cell that accuses student activists of conspiring to orchestrate the violence. Alongside various other activists and civil-society members, Tanha was accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a draconian legislation that enforces a high standard for bail and is often used by the state against its dissidents. A sessions court eventually granted Tanha bail in the Jamia case, but he remained incarcerated under FIR 59, in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

On 15 June 2021, a division bench of the Delhi High Court granted Tanha bail in the UAPA case, alongside two Pinjra Tod activists, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, who were also arrested in FIR 59. The court noted in the order that the chargesheet contained no specific allegations other than “those sought to be spun by mere grandiloquence.” Tanha was released on 17 June, after spending more than a year in prison. The next day, Nabeela Paniyath, a multimedia editor at The Caravan, met Tanha. They discussed his early days as a student activist, his year in prison, and his resolve to continue his fight against the CAA.

Nabeela Paniyath: What was your year in prison like?
Asif Iqbal Tanha: First, I want to explore why I went to jail, why I was put there, why I was imprisoned there for one year.

When the government brings out laws like the CAA, NRC, NPR, we at Jamia always oppose such measures. We ask the government why they are perpetuating discrimination. When the country’s Constitution hopes to create a culture of equality among all people, then why are you differentiating one community in terms of giving them citizenship? [Referring to the CAA, which protects individuals of six religious communities—excluding Muslims—from being categorised as an illegal immigrant, effectively facilitating easier citizenship for them.]

Nabeela Paniyath is the multimedia editor at The Caravan.

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