Home Uncategorized A Struggle for Dignity: A conversation with Asif Iqbal Tanha

A Struggle for Dignity: A conversation with Asif Iqbal Tanha

When someone is determined to do something, he or she should not afraid of the outcome. I was already determined to face what may come, so I was fearless. I had faith in the fact that truth and justice triumph over lies and injustice.


Q.1. You are a well-known activist and a student of Jamia Millia Islamia., You came to Delhi from the village of Jharkhand to study. How did you find the spirit to fight and struggle for the rights of the marginalized? 

I came to Delhi in 2016 intending to get admission in Jamia Millia Islamia for higher education. It was 2016 when Indian politics took a big turn and it was the beginning of people being targeted based on their religion. It started in JNU when a student Najeeb Ahmad got abducted and is missing to date. Many students protested and asked the government “where is Najeeb” in the light of these events I came to Jamia and explored Jamia’s history, the aim of its foundation.

Jamia University was a pioneer in starting movements like the non-cooperation movement and khilafat movement. Jamia has had an important contribution to the country’s independence. As a student of Jamia, I felt it was necessary to work for the targeted community and raise my voice against the hatred and atrocities directed on the marginalized. If our elders could fight against slavery then why can’t we?

As a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, I felt a strong need to come to the road and fight for people’s rights and against the hatred spreading in the community. I had been a part of the struggle for the Students Union election which had not been conducted for the last 12-13 years. This way I turned to activism besides my studies. At the same time, Babari Masjid’s verdict was announced and we were not happy about it. Besides this, NRC and CAA were introduced to suppress the particular communities. Every community was granted citizenship except Muslims. Indian Muslims would never agree to have secondary citizenship in their own country. We began fighting for the Indian constitution and democracy- joined by others. The movement is still going on but is slow-paced due to the rise of Covid-19 cases across the country.

Q.2. The protest started after the CAA-NRC had been passed and gained its momentum gradually. Had you thought it would become such a big movement? What were your initial thoughts?

We just had started the movement to fight against injustice. Asifa case, Najeeb case, unjust rules of CAA and NRC, all of these issues needed the government’s attention and we were protesting against the same. We intended to reach as many people as we could. We were determined to go door to door to make people aware and understand that implementation of CAA and NRC was oppressive and we should fight against it.

The silent protest on roads attracted people which eventually led them to understand the purpose behind the movement. We didn’t know it would become such a huge movement nationwide. It spread from Jamia to Shaheen Bagh and then to other places. I salute and appreciate the spirit of the women of Shaheen Bagh. The news of police brutality against Jamians on 15th December spread like wildfire across the country which only further spread the movement. With this crackdown the current regime had nowhere to hide with their fascist crimes, it made people emotionally attached to it. Students and people drew more strength and courage to continue the fight for justice. 

Q.3. Usually, we as activists always say that we are fighting against fascism and atrocities. Has the question crossed your mind that while fighting for the rights, results may be worst and we may have to face the brutality or can have to end up in lockup?

When we started the movement against CAB initially, we didn’t think of the huge impact it will create. We were protesting ordinarily and were determined to continue the fight. We did not imagine that we would face such brutality, tear gases, police batons, we did not think about it at all. But after 15th December, all of our fears faded away. We have gained more strength. But then, FIR was lodged against us in Jamia Nagar and New Friends Colony police station by my name. It then crossed my mind that maybe I will also be behind the bars. Several times I was called for the investigation but we were confident that we were not wrong in fighting for our rights.

As an Indian Muslim, both Islam and Indian history teaches us about the struggle of our freedom fighters in the past. So I was also ready to face the lockup. I have realized that if I would get terrified of the injustice and atrocities and not face them with courage then the revolution will not happen. I also want to convey to the readers that if you stand against injustice, you must be ready to face jail and brutality. You have to be strong and brave to support the weak. 

Q.4. On 16th December, an FIR was filed against you in Jamia violence and you got bail after some days. Then you got arrested again. During the series of arresting activists under UAPA charges in Delhi violence, had it occurred to you that like others you might also be trapped in it? What kept you motivated in the jail?

Yes, of course. I have been in activism since 2017. When I was arrested, it occurred to me that it was going to be for quite a long time. I remained in jail for thirteen months. When I went to jail, it was said to me that I would have to stay there for the next 4-5 years. But I believed that coming to the road and speaking against the government did not come under unlawful activities. So, there were ‘chances’ I would get the bail. 

When someone is determined to do something, he or she should not afraid of the outcome. I was already determined to face what may come, so I was fearless. I had faith in the fact that truth and justice triumph over lies and injustice. I had read the literature of truth and strength which kept me strong and motivated. I got a chance to work and interact with people in the jail. There are injustices inside the jail like that outside the jail. We tried to work and raise voices against it as well. We faced difficulties but it didn’t shake our faith in truth and justice and we continued to be brave and strong. Hope shouldn’t be lost. 

Q.5. what was the response of your friends during the whole process?

I am incredibly lucky to have friends as I do. During that difficult time, they had been extending moral support to me and my family which was a source of strength for us. They did everything they can do for us through their organizations, writing, and activism. I can’t thank them enough for their support.

Q.6. For those people who say do your studies and make your career first and do activism later, what would you like to suggest to them?

See, education is important. But we must also recognize how to practice it otherwise, it’s worthless. Education doesn’t teach us just to study and earn well and not to raise our voice for the rights of people. If we don’t speak for them today, they won’t speak for us tomorrow. I believe that our education should benefit people and society too. We should be educated to make society better to live in. I don’t see any use of that education which doesn’t benefit society and people. This is the real sense of education.

I want to say to all of you that study is important, we should study well and also keep in mind to come forward to help others whenever needed. It is not necessary that everyone takes on the road and raises slogans. Help can be done in any form be it in the form of money, writing, speaking, poetry, depending on our distinction, according to the field. If we don’t speak and stand for others, our coming generations would not forgive us for our cowardice.