Publica: In the early years of your university activism, you had a Socialist inclination and now you propagate identity politics? Why and how this ideological shift?
I would consider that as personal growth. As a university student, we engage with different political ideas, we learn and unlearn. That is how we grow as students and as activists.
Publica: You endorse identity politics and Muslim solidarity. But there is so many internal stratification among Muslims themselves along casteist and sectarian lines. How do you think they can come under umbrella of a single Muslim Identity?
It is true that Muslims are not a homogeneous group. There are indeed internal differences, stratification and challenges inside the Muslim community. But despite these many differences, Muslim identity is the unifying thread in the sense that it is the identity that makes all the Muslims in India a target, ‘the others’, ‘the internal enemy’. Take the incidents of recent witch hunting for example- all the Muslim students and activists who are currently in jail come from different places, different social locations, they have different caste and gender identities but yet are facing the same oppression from the state. What is common in all of them is their Muslim identity.
Publica: One question that is being hotly debated these days in progressive circles and social media spaces is the question of alliance and appropriation. Do you think that Muslims should forge broad based alliances with other groups like Ambedkarites and Socialists/Communists and on what terms?
Yes of course, in my opinion, Muslims should forge social and political alliance with other groups. Muslim community has always supported movements led by marginalised communities, be it the Ambedkarite movement in Uttar Pradesh or Socialist movement in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Same is the case with communist government in West Bengal. Sadly, that did not go very well for Muslims in any of the cases. Now, I believe the only term to forge alliance should be equal representation of the two or more independent parties involved.
Publica: In one of your tweets, you supported Shahrukh (gunman arrested in CAA protest at Jaffrabad) and called him your Hero. Do you in any way condone violence?
I am not justifying irrational, hateful violence. I am defending Shahrukh’s right to self defense. He was not arrested in CAA protest. There was an ongoing pogrom. Also, if not choosing violence would mean lying dead in a naala, or being represented as a number in the list of deaths or the value of my life being replaced with one lakh rupee cheque given to my family as “adequate compensation”, I shall defend myself most vehemently with all means at my disposal. You just cannot play with my life and the lives of my family and expect me to not react. This is against the very nature of humans. (for more on this question, please read Usmani’s article, “Who do you call when police murder?”)
Publica: What according to you is the future of Dalit- Muslim unity? Do you believe that this unity can bring transcendental social change through electoral Politics?
There is no future of Dalit-Muslim unity unless we see a social alliance between the two groups. Talking of any unity based on electoral politics is not going to last long.
Publica: An argument that comes from the left is that the present condition of fascism and Islamophobia is inextricably linked to capitalism and a deepening crisis within it. Do you think that the agenda of economic change can be key to Muslim identity politics?
Yes, it is true that capitalism is serving fascism. But in my opinion, economic change should not be our immediate focus. Muslims should be ready to shake hands with capitalists if it serves our purpose of empowerment.
Publica: The anti-CAA protests have met with political repression from the government. In such a situation where the BJP has greatly concentrated power and responds to any dissent with vilification and repression, what do you think can be the future course of action?
This is for all the citizens who believe in democracy to resist this fascist government. As of Muslims, I believe we should now focus on community building, empowering and educating them. Hindutva and its hate cannot be defeated electorally.
Publica: What connection do you see, if any with the #BLACKLIVESMATTER and #MUSLIMLIVESMATTER and how is the both movements going to shape and complement each other?
There is no Muslim Lives Matter movement in India. I mean there is no pan India movement by that name. But yes, the anti CAA movement was, in many ways, inspired by #BLACKLIVESMATTER. Both the movements are about standing for equity and equality and to assert their rights without having the burden to explain their existence. I hope that as the movement in India led by Muslims grows, it would also continue to make supremacists uncomfortable as BLM does.
Sharjeel Usmani, a former student of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Social Activist and a Freelance Journalist in an email interview with Publica Desk.