The story of a journalist booked in the aftermath of the Kanpur communal clashes

Shams Tabrez Qasmi was born into a farming family in a village in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district, on the India-Nepal border. He is founder and editor-in-chief of the popular multilingual news website ‘Millat Times’, whose YouTube channel is closing in on a million subscribers, writes Abhay Kumar

Shams Tabrez Qasmi, the editor-in-chief of the multilingual digital media platform, ‘Millat Times’ and alumnus of Darul Uloom Deoband, has been booked for tweeting videos of the communal clashes in Kanpur on 3 June.

The Kanpur police on 5 June filed an FIR against Qasmi and seven others under IPC sections 505 (offence committed in a place of worship) and 507 (criminal intimidation by anonymous communication), and section 66 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008.

Among the eight names mentioned in the FIR, seven, including Shams Tabrez Qasmi, belong to the Muslim community, and one is a Yadav.

Violence erupted in Kanpur after the Friday prayer on 3 June. Members of two communities indulged in stone-throwing, following a call given to observe a strike in protest against the derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma on a national TV channel. 

One of the videos that Qasmi shared on Twitter on Friday evening is of stone-throwing directed at the Muslims in the presence of the police.    

“In the FIR, my name is mentioned. But I have not received any notice from the police”, 29-year-old Qasmi said over the phone.  

Shams Tabrez Qasmi was born in 1993 in Raipur village (Nanpur Block) in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district on the India-Nepal border. His father, Zakir Hussain, is a farmer. From the backward region of north Bihar, Qasmi went to Darul Uloom Deoband, one of the most prestigious madrassas in India.

Shams Tabrez Qasmi (Photo courtesy: Millat Times)

Apart from a degree in Maulvi, he also completed a diploma course in English from Deoband. He further studied Arabic, doing his graduation and postgraduation from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He also has an MA degree in Urdu from Maulana Azad Urdu University, Hyderabad.  

He started his journalistic career by sending articles to Urdu newspapers. In 2016, he launched a news website, “Millat Times”. Two years later, he launched a YouTube channel, which became hugely popular. His reportage, analyses, and interviews were appreciated by a large number of viewers.

“Millat Times” has its office in the Jamia Nagar area in New Delhi. Gradually, “Millat Times” started publishing news and opinion pieces in three languages, that is Urdu, Hindi and English. The channel is closing in on the big milestone of a million subscribers. It has so far uploaded over four thousand videos.

One of the strengths of Shams Tabrez Qasmi lies in his proficiency in multiple languages, that is Urdu, Hindi, English and Arabic. Apart from his command of languages, he has also exhibited a good understanding of contemporary political and social issues.

While the mainstream media, particularly the news channels, have largely become the mouthpiece of the ruling establishment, the ordinary people, particularly those belonging to the marginalized sections, are looking for alternative platforms. ‘Millat Times’ is one such platform. Despite facing a lack of resources and infrastructure, Shams Tabrez Qasmi and his team have managed to raise several issues related to Muslims, Dalits and other marginalized communities.

I met Shams Tabrez Qasmi for the first time around three years ago. Some of my writings in Urdu have been published by ‘Millat Times’. On several occasions, he has invited me to his panel discussions. As an active member of the Press Club, he organizes programmes on issues related to the marginalized communities. Last year, he played an active role in holding a function on the great Urdu journalist Maulvi Mohammad Baqir at the Press Club, New Delhi. When the celebrations to mark two hundred years of Urdu journalism (1822-2022) were being held across the country, he, too, helped organize an event at the Press Club.  

Since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power, attacks on religious minorities and historically marginalized communities have increased. The mainstream media has either ignored communal riots, mob-lynching, attacks on minorities and other marginalized sections, and misuse of power or reported on these incidents from the point of view of the ruling parties. In these difficult times, ‘Millat Times’ is one of the alternative media platforms to have carried on its fearless journalism.

Apart from reporting, Shams Tabrez Qasmi hosts a daily talk show “Desh Ke Sath” from Monday to Friday. This show has been widely appreciated for its focus on relevant public issues that the mainstream media tends to ignore.

It is unfortunate that the communal “fringe elements” are given protection by the government and its police, while a brave journalist exercising a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution is being harassed by falsely implicating him.


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