Scores of students, civil rights activists and media personalities gathered here on Friday to express solidarity with former JNU student leader Umar Khalid, who completed 1,000 days behind bars after being arrested in the 2020 Delhi riots case.
The activists gathered at the Press Club to talk about “Democracy, Dissent and Censorship”, saying Khalid’s 1,000 days of imprisonment equals “1,000 days of resistance”.
The event was earlier scheduled to be held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, but the activists said police forced the venue managers to cancel their booking.
Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, JNU, said the continued detention of Khalid was not just a personal tragedy but the “social waste” of a talent.
“Even in the colonial days, Gandhi was never in jail for more than two years. Nehru was longest in jail at one go for 1,041 days... Umar has now been in jail for 1,000 days,” he said.
“This is against democracy, anyone can be put in jail on the flimsiest of pretexts,” he added.
Khalid, who completed his PhD on tribals in Jharkhand from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was arrested on September 14, 2020, and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code by Delhi police, who said he was the mastermind of the riots.
Khalid’s father S.Q.R Ilyas, who was at the protest, underlined that his son was not in Delhi when the riots occurred.
“Has 1,000 days of jail dented Umar’s confidence, has it dampened the spirits of his friends? Absolutely not. When I see all those who have been jailed during their court hearings, I see confidence in their faces, they know that they are in jail for a cause,” Ilyas said.
He said his son is fighting for the country and democracy, and demanded the release of all “political prisoners”.
RJD leader and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said: “This is 1,000 days of imprisonment as well as 1,000 days of resistance. Umar Khalidwill be very happy toknow that in this scorching heat, hundreds of people gathered to defend democracy. This solidarity is not just for Umar, but for every political prisoner.”
Senior journalist Ravish Kumar said the road to the door of justice had been stretched too far for those like Khalid.
“Remember 1,000 days that have passed. Remember that these are not just 1,000 days since Khalid’s incarceration, but also 1,000 days of shame for the Indian judicial system,” he said.
Author Arundhati Roy, activist Shabnam Hashmi and former Planning Commission member Sayeda Hamid were among those present.
About the change of venue, Supreme Court advocate Shahrukh Alam said: “We were told Delhi police gave a notice to the management of the earlier venue that the booking should be cancelled.”