Sharjeel Usmani is a youth activist whose participation in anti-CAA protests on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus landed him in jail for two months. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh, he has been determined to speak up against the ghettoization of Muslims in his growing years amid the Batla House encounter case.
Sharjeel Usmani had been involved in public speaking since his AMU days. He joined debating clubs, read non-fiction, and started writing for media outlets. He became a vocal student activist on Muslim issues, which led him to take charge of the journalist writing forum of AMU’s Literary Club.
Life and Activism
Sharjeel Usmani was just ten years old as he remembers the media started calling Azamgarh, “atankgarh” — a hub of terror. The school he attended was run by Catholics but Usmani recalled that the teachers were “upper-caste Hindus.” He recalled one teacher calling him a “terrorist” when he caught him making a paper gun in Class VII. Similarly, he grew up amid the fear and humiliation that overwhelmed his community.
After Usmani was arrested in Azamgarh in July 2020, he was made to stand before his family members with his hands tied and head down and they too were photographed and questioned by the anti-terrorism squad of the Lucknow police.
Circumstances of Arrest
During the anti-CAA protests, he was accused of terrorism, arrested by the UP Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, and exiled from the Aligarh district under the Goonda Act. After his two months stint in jail, Usmani was later booked for an allegedly controversial speech he gave on Jan 30, 2021, at the Elgar Parishad event, where he was invited as a guest speaker. On one occasion, he was recorded saying that there was a “rot” in Hindu society leading to “constant attacks” against Muslims in the past six years. He had stated that it was for the Hindus to fight the hatred that they felt towards Muslims. Two days later, an FIR was filed on him under IPC section 153 (A), sedition, promoting enmity between different groups and outraging religious sentiments. The FIR was registered after BJP leader and the former chief minister of the state Devendra Fadnavis wrote to the current CM Uddhav Thackeray, demanding action. In addition, Maharashtra BJP state president Chandrakant Patil also wrote to the Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, asking the latter to arrest Sharjeel Usmani in his home state. He moved a petition against the filed FIR, arguing that it was a political gimmick. Subsequently, he appeared a few times before the Bombay High Court for hearings but was not arrested. Later, on May 20 and May 23, 2021, he was booked under IPC section 295-A, 505, and Information Technology Act for his tweets that were critical about a murder case in Haryana and other issues. In the first case, the complainant was a Hindu Jagran Manch member, and in the second, a BJP media head claimed his tweets were defaming Hindu sentiments and Hindu God Lord Ram. The police said a non-cognizable report was filed and further investigation was being carried out.
Charges & Allegations
Sharjeel has atleast 6 cases against him, including charges ranging from attempt to murder, rioting and promoting communal disharmony to IPC section 153 (A), Goonda Act, IPC section 295-A to IPC section 505 and others.
Despite these cyber-related cases, the activist remains active on his Twitter handle, frequently exposing injustices, mostly around issues relating to Indian Muslims, and questioning authorities and politicians persistently.