New Delhi: The Sharjeel Imam factor has overnight changed the contours of the Shaheen Bagh protest over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, and National Register of Citizens.
From a motley crowd of women and children led by a few old women, the arrest of Sharjeel Imam has shifted the spotlight from anti-CAA protests to sedition charges.
Sharjeel Imam defies the typical stereotype of Islamic hardliners: A studious student, who had a brief overseas stint in Europe as a software professional and then a teaching professional. He finally made his way to JNU, where he is enrolled for a PhD program.
As a native of a small village in Jehanabad district of Bihar, Sharjeel's childhood acquaintances remember him as a studious person who performed exceedingly well in school and college. The eldest of five siblings, Sharjeel completed his graduation and post-graduation in computer science from IIT Bombay. He has also earned himself an MA and an MPhil in modern Indian history from JNU where he is currently enrolled as a PhD scholar in modern Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies.
His social media profiles indicate he is a wanderer of sorts. In 2009, Sharjeel spent two months at the IT University of Copenhagen in Denmark, where he worked as a programmer. A couple of months later, he joined IIT-Bombay as a teaching assistant for one year, before making his way to Bengaluru to work at a software company. In 2015, he shifted back to academics immersing himself in the study of modern history.
Sharjeel's family background shows that he belongs to a reasonably privileged family. His late father, Akbar Imam, was politically connected with the ruling Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. In fact, his father had even contested assembly elections once.
Apart from his scholarly pursuits, Sharjeel also dabbled in journalism. He has penned articles for various news websites, some of them belonging to mainstream media organisations. Apart from writing about Muslim history in modern times, he has also written articles targeting the Left.
Identified among the leading organisers behind the Shaheen Bagh protests, Sharjeel ended up in media glare and, later on, in the law enforcement net, with his call for cutting off the North-East from the rest of India.
His posts on social media show his dissatisfaction with the Ayodhya verdict. When the anti-CAA protests began to unravel, Sharjeel played an active role in promoting the Shaheen Bagh protests on social media.
Two videos of his inflammatory speeches at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligaarh Muslim University surfaced, adding to his appeal among anti-CAA proponents.
With sedition charges slapped against him in five states, and the Delhi Police hard on his heels, Sharjeel took recourse to the best option available to him: remain on the run.
After his arrest in Bihar on Tuesday, Sharjeel was produced on Wednesday before a Delhi judge from where he was sent to police custody for five days. He is currently being interrogated by the police.