NEW DELHI — In the months after the Delhi riots, Asif Iqbal Tanha, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia University, was submitting assignments for his final exam and delivering food to migrant workers amid the coronavirus lockdown. In between this, he was also being summoned for police interrogations and mentally preparing himself for his own arrest.
The irony, Tanha’s friend Abu Aala Subhani pointed out, was that the Jamia Nagar police station which booked the 24-year-old for rioting and attempt to murder was the same one that had issued him a movement pass for carrying out relief work during the lockdown, a month after the communal violence in February.
“He was always ready for relief work. When the phone rang, he would go and give food not just to migrant workers, but to anyone who needed it,” said the Jamia research scholar as he shared the image of the pass on WhatsApp.
At least 21 people have been arrested by the Delhi Police in a conspiracy case in connection with the February riots, most of whom have no criminal record whatsoever. Rather, those arrested represent a new generation of student activists who have articulated a principled, coherent and articulate response to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that critics say makes religion the basis for granting citizenship in India.
The arc of Tanha’s life is of a poor student from an underdeveloped state like Jharkhand to a young man who was finding his politics at a prestigious university like Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. He, like many of those opposing the increasing authoritarianism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) majoritarian politics, face charges of murder, terrorism and conspiracy. These are largely statements attributed to the accused and protected witnesses that defence lawyers in the conspiracy case — First Information Report (FIR) 59 — have called false and fabricated.
Tanha, who grew up in a poor...