Pattern of anti-CAA movement has changed due to pandemic but the movement is alive: Asif Iqbal Tanha

Asif Iqbal Tanha speaks to the media after being released from Tihar jail in New Delhi on June 17, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Asif Iqbal Tanha, who was recently released on bail after being arrested under the UAPA for his alleged role in the Delhi riots, speaks about his time in prison and the future course of the anti-CAA movement. Excerpts.

You have been in jail for over a year. How does it feel to be free to be back with family, friends and other activists?

It was a feeling of immense joy to come out of prison and meet my family, friends, fellow students from Jamia Millia Islamia and other activists. I was ecstatic to know that the passion with which the work began to oppose the CAA/NRP/NCR was still alive. I sometimes felt while in prison that because I was arrested under the UAPA, those who were involved in the movement may have gotten scared, silent or backed out but I was happy to know that that was not the case. I can now say with pride that when it comes to saving the unity and integrity of India, now or in the future, the will to fight for the cause is alive in people and they will not feel afraid to fight to save the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of the country.

My friends, family or members of civil society stood by me and were fighting from outside while we were inside. While I was in jail, there were days when I was scared as I knew that getting out would be tough due to the stringent UAPA, but my legal team did a wonderful job and the High Court delivered a verdict that gave us protection.

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I believe that people will continue to fight for what is right and just and make the movement stronger.

Do you feel UAPA is being used to silence dissenting voices and keep students away from activism? Do you feel your bail order will help stop this?

UAPA is being misused to put people like independent journalists, students and activists who are fighting for justice into prison with the hope of silencing their voice. It is being used as a tool to silence those who are asking questions of the government. UAPA should not be misused and should be used for the purpose it was made for - to put terrorists behind bars.

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Instead, those who are against violence and are raising their voice for the unity of the nation are being but behind bars. I feel that the bail order from the Delhi High Court for Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and me will help those who are innocent, political prisoners and it will bring justice to them.

You have raised a lot of questions on the condition of prisons and the way you were treated inside. Tell us about your experience.

For people who are outside, what all happens inside a jail is something that they will be unable to fathom. The conditions are very bad. It is not enough to just provide food to prisoners and ask them to lead their life in prison. There is a continuous violation of human rights inside prison. People inside are not being given basic medical facilities. In the time of COVID, prisoners are not being given access to tests or vaccinations. If they want to complete their studies from inside, they are not being given the facilities to study. If they want to participate in some cultural activities, there is no system or platform for them to engage in such activities.

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People are put in prison so that they may reform themselves and become better people but they are not being given the opportunity to reform themselves. They are just being locked up and are being given food to survive. There is no access to any aid, legal, medical or counselling for them to understand what they have done and become better. I am not saying that prisoners should be given anything extra. They should be given what the jail manual says that they should be given. Tax payers money that goes into the management of the prison system is not being utilised to the fullest.

Even when you ask for something that you are entitled to according to the jail manual, it is denied citing safety and security concerns. It in my humble request to the jail authorities that inmates should be given access to their basic human rights.

How will the movement against CAA/NRC/NPR continue, especially during the pandemic.

The CAA/NRC movement had a pattern across the country whether it was the Shaheen Bagh protest or the Jamia protest which used crowds to protest. Now, due to COVID, people cannot gather to protest and need to ensure their safety first before coming out on the streets to protest. With the threat of a possible third wave of COVID, the pattern of the protest will have to change. Social media will be used more, there will be more debate and discussion on the media to make people aware so that we can all sit down together and find a solution. These discussions will throw up ideas on how to take the movement forward.

If the government decides to implement NPR immediately, then we will have to find an immediate way to oppose it. We will also have legal discussions to ensure that the way forward for the movement is not against the Constitution of India. But as long as the threat of the pandemic remains, it will not be right to gather in large crowds in protest.

What is next for you when it comes to academics and well as activism?

To lead a good life, it is important to study. If you do not study, you will not be able to raise questions. I will be continuing my academics by doing my Masters and a PhD. When it comes to activism, I will continue with it on campus and outside by tying up with well-known activists who are fighting for similar causes across the nation.

I will be able to learn from them as now I am not in prison any more. When I first entered jail, I was told that this is no place for activism. Even then, we raised many issues for the betterment of prisoners. Activism will be a part of my life. As a student or after as well.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 9:02:47 PM |

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