Sunday, March 19, 2023
HomeOpinionNot Kunal Kamra, the real test for Indian liberals is Sharjeel Imam

Not Kunal Kamra, the real test for Indian liberals is Sharjeel Imam

Kunal Kamra got enormous support over travelling ban by some airlines. Sharjeel Imam has been charged with sedition and is being treated like a terrorist.

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Kunal Kamra-Arnab Goswami episode and Sharjeel Imam’s arrest have shown up Indian liberals’ doublespeak.

It is easy to support Kunal Kamra because the state action against him is so arbitrary and ridiculous, without any semblance of legal grounding, that it takes no courage to oppose it. But Sharjeel Imam’s is the real test case of liberalism. If someone needs to be arrested for inciting violence, it’s BJP MP Anurag Thakur, whose exhortation to supporters at a rally to chant ‘shoot the traitors’ was succeeded by the firing at Delhi’s Jamia Nagar; and not Sharjeel Imam, whose comments had no material effect whatsoever.

When comedian Kunal Kamra was banned from travelling by four airlines, one of them state-owned, there was an enormous outpouring of support from India’s liberal circles. Even politicians joined in. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury deplored the “clear stifling of democratic rights, civil liberties and freedom of expression”. Congress’ Rahul Gandhi condemned the Narendra Modi government’s attempt to “silence a critic”. Yet, the slapping of draconian sedition charge under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on Sharjeel Imam was met with jarring silence.

The liberals’ hesitation to defend Sharjeel is based on three reasons, all of which are not just groundless but a betrayal of every liberal principle.

Also read: Why call gunman mentally unstable, he’s a terrorist — Jamia students after brazen shooting

Silent approval

First, some liberals silently approve of the charge of sedition, with a few even egging the state to take action. They believe threatening to block roads going to Assam is enough to merit the sedition charge. However, as Justice Markandey Katju wrote, “inflammatory speech is also protected by the Freedom of Speech guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution — unless it incites or produces imminent lawless action.”

Justice Katju pointed out that Sharjeel’s speech does not “incite or produce imminent lawless action”, which is the key part of the Brandenburg test. This test, originally formulated by the US Supreme Court in ‘Brandenburg vs Ohio’, has been cited in two different judgments by the Supreme Court of India and is thus part of the Indian law on sedition. That the filing of the anti-terror law UAPA charge on a rabble-rousing student is patently ridiculous does not even need to be pointed out. By staying quiet, Indian liberals become complicit in the state’s abuse of draconian laws.

Also read: UP Police didn’t become anti-Muslim under Yogi. Look at secular Congress’ bloody past

FoE on our terms

Second, Indian liberals, it seems, only stand up for the freedom of speech that they agree with. “Goebbels was in favour of free speech he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech,” Chomsky wrote.

It doesn’t matter whether you disagree with Sharjeel Imam’s comments, or his ideology. The issue at hand is whether you are willing to defend an individual who is being viciously persecuted by the state for her words.

Principles are only tested when they have to be applied in the defence of someone you find disagreeable. If you are defending Kunal Kamra and shunning Sharjeel Imam because you like the former and dislike the latter, then you are merely standing up for your buddies or favourite celebrity, not for the Indian Constitution. It isn’t enough to shrug your shoulders and say that the courts will decide. Even if he is eventually acquitted of the charges, he stands to lose many years of his life.

The process, as they say in India, is the punishment. And if he is not vigorously defended now, the pall of guilt will forever hang around Sharjeel Imam’s head, even if he is later acquitted. Former Delhi University professor SAR Geelani was acquitted in the 2001 Parliament attack case as early as 2002, but his arrest under the now-defunct Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) meant that he could never shake off the terrorist tag until his demise recently.

Also read: Sharjeel Imam, the IIT graduate in JNU who called out Left’s ‘Islamophobia’

It’s ‘strategic’

Third, the more conscientious Indian liberals offer the strategic importance of maintaining a silence. Defending Sharjeel Imam, they argue, risks the fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s authoritarianism. In the battle to win public perception, Sharjeel is a losing fight. By sacrificing Sharjeel, they can help salvage the image of Shaheen Bagh, and the wider anti-government struggle.

But what is Shaheen Bagh if not for ensuring constitutional protections of vulnerable citizens, particularly India’s Muslims? Sacrificing Sharjeel means accepting that every Muslim person is one bad statement away from having his or her life destroyed. And make no mistake, Sharjeel’s Muslim identity is the primary factor behind him being treated like a terrorist.

The optics of five state police ‘hunting him down’, the detention of his family members – all are meant to portray him as a dreaded terrorist. The convenient leaks citing Delhi Police accusing him of being “highly radicalised” and wanting to make India an “Islamic state” follow the same neat Islamophobic script that is used to demonise the protesters at Shaheen Bagh.

Also read: Two reasons that can keep CAA-NRC protests from evolving into a larger anti-Modi movement

Not ‘one of our own’

It is not a question of supporting ‘extremists’ of the other side. Sharjeel Imam’s views on the state, methods of resistance, and even on M.K. Gandhi, are no more radical than Arundhati Roy. Or the views of many similar ‘upper’ caste Hindu radical intellectuals, who would be promptly and unambiguously defended by the liberal establishment that would see them as ‘one of our own’. A Muslim student from Bihar, though, is conveniently dispensable.

All these three reasons (or excuses to be precise) far from absolving liberals, show up the shallowness of their principles, and the hollowness of their convictions. At a time when Muslims are at the forefront of fighting for the idea of a secular, democratic India, laying down their lives in the process, the least that can be expected of the liberal intelligentsia is to defend them with their words.

You don’t have to defend their views, just defend them from unjust prosecution. And not just those Muslims who tick the boxes of the ‘good Muslim’ in the liberal imagination.

The author is a research scholar in political science at the University of Delhi. Views are personal.

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  1. Sharjeel Imam is a terrorist and he will deservingly rot in jail. Nothing is above unity of India. He actually tried to break the momentum of the protest by making it muslim protest. This fight was for Secular India and Secular Indians, not for salafists and wahabbis.

  2. I liked the comment – Freedom of Expression on my terms.

    If Sharjeel Imam has FoE, why not Monika Arora whole book was so brazenly suppressed by Bloomsbury at the last moment.

  3. I read the article and could not get past the Western references, though one is speaking about an Indian issue. The author cannot help himself from quoting Chomsky, Goebbels, Stalin. Coincidentally, the more shocking tidbit I learned is how apeish and servile the Indian Supreme Court is by quoting Braddenburg v. Ohio!!! On what planet does what applies in the US have relevance to Indian law. If you understand my comment, you will also understand why liberalism is failing in India. Indian liberals are known as slaves to the West, incapable of an original thought and servile in their mimicry. They are laughing stocks. Why do Indian “writers” quote Western thinkers even when writing about the Indian condition? In their rush to ape their masters, do they ever notice how the West never quotes India? The problem with Indian liberalism is not the BJP; it is they are unoriginal. Do a better job. Write an article without trying to look smart; you are not. Try an original thought. We are Indians after all.

  4. your articles and statement cleary saying you are an anti nationals may be you are from Pakistan who knows,
    and After looking at your all other articles on this website, I have written a letter to my college office for blocking of this website,

    Just look at I think you don’t even know what you have written on your articles,

  5. so, you want the “LIBERALS” to prove their liberal secular credentials by supporting a radical fanatic muslim? That a test of liberalism? so definition of secularism is tolerating muslim communalism?? that it?

  6. This article defending expression ,intent shown by (sharjeel imam )I call him indian citizen ,Forget religious identity . This our fellow citizen chose his path of expression which crosses all boundary of law of land . Only he can defend his choice in court of law what he meant when he chose all his actions and words while knowing well the consequence it may bring up on him .
    God gives common sense to all such citizen who think like sharjeel imaam irrespective of their identity / name .
    Biggest court lies in the heart of each adult who crosses 18 yrs of age .

  7. The desperation of Author is pitiful at the best. How on earth the views & ideologies of Sharjeel, who is openly asking to cut off NE from India, can be ignored ? FoE and Constitution does not allow you to do that !
    The reason why even the so called intellectual liberals are also silent on Sharjeel is, they know he is a clear culprit here. No point defending him. Its out in open. Who else do you consider a secessionist? He is inciting Muslims to create ruckus and chaos in the name of Islam. What is this, some funny game ?
    I wonder why other muslims in India always defend criminals like these. Can they for once consider nation above religion ?

  8. Another pro-muslim article by a “muslim” author to justify the traitor Sharjeel Imam. Its good though, no matter how hard people like this author will try, the nation can clearly see what’s under this cloak of liberalism and secularism.

    Time is running out already though, a new, powerful India is rising that is not only going to crush Pakistan but all these fake liberals, be it Muslim or Hindu or any person from any religion!

  9. i am asking these liberals to speak for carona virus infected patients, government isolating them from public their human rights are violating, please liberals go and stud for these people and spend with them for some time. then nation automatically free from trash.

  10. Isn’t it funny how Muslims keep throwing these “tests” at Hindu liberals to prove their secularism but won’t take one to prove their secularism?

    When will Muslims prove their patriotism? Why no outright condemnation of Sharjeel Imam who wants India to be an Islamic state, why no criticism of Islamism, Jihad, the chants of ‘la ilah etc’, why no criticism of Pakistan for being a theoretical Islamic state instead of being a secular one?

    Indians don’t need certificate of secularism and tolerance from Muslims who give tacit support to Jihadis and Islamists. It is because of its Hindu identity and majority that India is tolerant and secular in outlook.

  11. Some of the slogans like “Jinnah wali Azadi” are such that even an ordinary Indian would say, “It is already available in the neighbourhood. Anybody who wants it can simply step over the border and enjoy it.

  12. You’re blaming liberals for not standing with Sharjeel, and you offer quotes from known personalities in support of your view. So that’s your story, but you offer no ground on what the other side is saying? You dont offer any quotes from any leaders or spokespersons from the BJP or government. Also you might think you are true liberal, but thats purely because you think that.

    Did you notice how confusing that statement is? It’s confusing because “liberals”, “conservatives” are relative terms and mostly used loosely to support a narrative.

  13. I hope that self certified liberals take up the challenge and support Shri Imam. That will be the end of liberalism in India. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  14. Nothing is funnier than muslims lecturing Indians on secularism . As far as Shrjeel is concerned……. crushing him to death under the tracks of a tank would be an appropriate punishment and if any or all of your liberal freinds wanna join him.. the more the merrier. After the Hindu-Muslim partition in 1947… the Hindus don’t owe sh*t to the muslims. You got your own country for that.

  15. Another muslim hindu divide in the name of liberalism. Why should he defend on the ground that Sharjeel Imam is muslim and Kunal a non muslim.
    Asim Ali wouldn’t react with all this vigour for anybody who is not a muslim añd still want to be secular and liberal

  16. The guilt of the ‘Liberals’ is egged on by asking them to commit to more and more insane propositions coming out of a ‘Jihadi’ mindset.
    Furthermore, an attempt is made to obfuscate the distinction between’ tolerance’ and ‘active support’.
    The real test for Asim Ali, the liberal, is to write in support of the insane utterances of ‘ Hirsi Ali’, ‘Tarek Fateh’ or’ Taslima Nasreen’

  17. Sharjeel is so important at this time because he offends so many and makes us question our commitment to democracy and freedom of speech. Most Libs and far right have a narrow view of Muslims. So Muslims in India will have to save the country from both of these groups. Kidding ;-|
    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” ~ Cannot believe they don’t know who actually wrote this. Asim Ali read quotes by Larry Flynt and also watch the movie The People Vs Larry Flynt.

  18. Sharjeel has the right to free speech. He has given a call to a blockade which had been done before.. by a lot of politics parties, as well as by the Indian government itself, to Nepal. And the likes of Anurag Thakur must definitely face worse consequences.

    But, one must realise that we live in a polarised atmosphere, and anything that’s said unfavourable to the ruling party will be used against you. A lot of people who have done this have got public support. But Sharjeel will not. And thats because hardly anyone agrees with his views.

    Listen to his speech.. put a red tikka on his forehead.. replace the word Muslim with Hindu.. and he’s no different from a bhakt rabble rouser. He’s Anurag Thakur and Amit Shah’s Muslim counterpart. The sooner such elements are weeded out from the anti CAA NRC, movement, the greater the chances of it succeeding!

    If you say it is a test of liberals, I’ll say it is also a test for the movement – will its support to a person be based on his views, or his religion?! The BJP was looking for a reason to discredit Shaheen Bagh, and the guy who played an instrumental role in the protests just gave it to them on a platter.

    • Anurag Thakur only said that traitors should be published. What’s wrong in this? Where as Imam said to cut-off Assam and nort East from India, permanently preferably. Imam is real traitor. Why people want to defend Imam one cannot understand. In India liberal means support anti India and anti Hindu philosophy and people.

  19. Yippeee!! The muslims are fighting liberals. Author’s appeal for liberals to support Islamists simply because of “enemy’s enemy is a friend” type of association will not work. Also, author is out-of-touch with his own community – most muslim protesters themselves are not comfortable defending him because of his views.

  20. He should be detained for his comments on Father of Nation Gandhi ji. Because he is delusional and worried about his mental state

  21. The real test for Indian liberals can be real at all as they hate giving test but love taking test of others. Indian liberals are the most intolerant specy that call others as intolerant. They love working with corrupt people and are themselves crooks of highest order. India would be peaceful without Indian liberals.

  22. Your piece shows the bias you have grown up with all your life. Pushing liberals to do their duty is an old ploy our friends in the Muslim community use when they want things done their way. What he said was anti-national and deserves a trial by the court. Let the court decide on the outcome.
    I wonder how many columns you have written about the Muslim terrorists and anti-nationals that may have been caught red-handed by the agencies in the previous govt.
    Don’t try to paint a picture that all Muslim terror accused or convicted were good people framed by agencies.

  23. your article is disgusting in the Name of liberals. Freedom of speech don’t give anyone right to provoke people to be violent and destroy public property. If you feel something is going wrong you can file petition in court instead of coming on roads and shouting like illetrate.

  24. I agree with most of the article except for one point. I don’t think Indian liberals are not trying to defend sharjeel because they want to defend abuse of draconian law by state, it’s because they’re tired of these extremists sects piggybacking on every single genuine protest against this conservative state. They completely neglect secular motives and turn them into hindu vs muslim debate. Let’s be honest, you can’t clap with one hand.

  25. A Muslim lecturing us Indians on secularism and freedom of expression!!! What the world is coming to???

  26. There could be many things wrong in the CAA and we must have faith in the SC process which is underway. Meanwhile, what is needed from students and “liberals” is a logical and not strident exposition of the defects in CAA . SHarjeel Imam and students like him must also be counselled not to bring in extraneous stuff like blockading Assam – even if they are incapable of actually doing so. This merely gives a handle to the Anurag Thakur types to whip up crowds . This is not to say that sedition charges are justified, but one expects Doctorate scholars with so much academic background to bring out much more logic in arguments regarding citizenship , immigration etc. The NDA Govt on its part is lowering itself to the students’ level with hysterical responses . With their huge majority they must know that only the SC stands between them and the legislative agenda.

  27. It’s a shame, how can you defend his speech under the blanket of freedom of speech, when he clearly admitted his intention.

    Shame on you brother.

  28. Indian liberals should heed the writer’s advice and massively support Sharjeel Imam. That will be a step closer to jumping off the cliff, which is not a had thing.

  29. The author does not think that Sharjeel ‘s call to arms is not a clear and present danger to the Republic!!his call to cut off Assam in AMU where the idea partition germinated is not lost on anyone. Sarjeel’s inflammatory speech is pregnant with the idea of Jihad,zIt has been rightly been widely condemned

  30. The writer article is a reflection & vindication of the theory that a Muslim first loyalty is with islam & not constitution.How many muslim majority countries out of 56 r secular?muslims in majority always choose islamic state for themselves not secular.We have seen how muslims in majority in kashmir treated the kashmiri pandits.the writer wants to defend sharjeel imam because he is a muslim as him.Dont fool us that u r defending constitution.Constitution does not allow u to cut siliguri corridor from northeast by giving invitation to China to conquer northeast.

  31. Is there an established fact that Jamia shooter was instigated by BJP mla’s speech?
    Also, whether it comes under “statements inciting violence” technically or not
    Is a question that court will answer
    Personally I think it does
    And if you think the process is the punishment, then fight against the lacky process. This is not a valid reasoning for not filing any charges against Sharjeel.

  32. Why shoot the traitors needs to be arrested? I will say shoot the traitors. Whats wrong with saying shoot the traitors? Is it not freedom of speech? Any civilised country gives death sentence to traitors.
    The author needs to be educated about Freedom of Speech.
    Article 19 (1) All citizens shall have the right
    (a) to freedom of speech and expression
    Then he should go to Article 19 (2)
    Nothing in the subclause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any law, in so far as such law impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by said sub-clause in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

    • Now look at Imam speech. Then decide.

      As far as Indian Constitution is concerned it has given individual rights, not group rights. Muslims want group rights, which will always be anathema to Indian Constitution. The sooner the liberals and Muslim Scholars realise this, the better.

  33. And of course Muslims are the terrorists in world over. What’s ISIS? What’s Jaish-e-Mohammed? What’s Lashkar-e-taiba? What’s Indian mujahideen ? What’s SIMI? What’s Taliban? What’s PFI? What’s Hamas? The list goes on. (I agree there are extremists among other religions too but their number and influence over the world and the threat they pose are very minimal when compared to Muslim radicals. I also know a majority of Muslims are peaceful and not radical). With so many powerful influential radical Islamic organisations in the world any Muslim is naturally vulnerable to anti-terror laws and always one statement away from being seen as a terrorist. Being in a naturally vulnerable position Muslims should be more cautious while making public statements. Anything radical, police will think in the lines of terrorism only

  34. So tomorrow I’ll come outside your house and abuse your parents. I will Call for vandalising your house. Will you accept it’s my freedom of speech and you won’t abuse me back? Will you remain quiet without complaining to the police because my abuses did not incite any violence ?
    If you think you can talk anything irrational that hurts the society and wear the cover of freedom of expression, then only god should save India

  35. Liberals shut criticism of islam as Islamophobia. Liberals often double speak for example it was when Indian liberals were supporting triple talaq which is totally against liberal values.

  36. Whole article is brilliant and logical….I learnt very good points,principle especially prosecution integrity…..but only disagree with the line that Muslims are fighting for secular and democratic values
    ….they are fighting only because they fear about CAA being used to target Muslims….hope my opinion will be respected

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