One year of incarceration of rights defender Umar Khalid
Eminent civil society members addressed a media conference on Monday to mark one year of the incarceration of rights defender Umar Khalid, who was arrested on terrorism charges for allegedly inciting last year’s communal violence in Delhi.
Those at the event included RJD parliamentarian and Delhi University professor Manoj Jha, former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed and legal activist Prashant Bhushan.
Khalid and 12 others, including several students, are in jail facing trial in a case registered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
“(My) thanks to the people of this country, not to any political party, who gave hope to Parliament — which was made defunct on both occasions (during the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the farm laws),”
Jha said. “The government could not deal with Shaheen Bagh, only demonise (it). The solution found was Umar Khalid’s speech in Amravati (where he called for peaceful protests against the CAA during then US President Donald Trump’s visit in February 2020, which coincided with the start of the Delhi riots).”
Jha called Khalid “one of the brightest and most uncontaminated minds of this age” and asked people not to forget student activists like Meeran Haider — of the RJD student wing in Jamia Millia Islamia — and others who too are in Tihar prison awaiting trial.
In an apparent jibe at some Opposition leaders, he said: “You cannot defeat the politics of this regime by being a photocopy of this regime…. Both can’t happen — that I pay obeisance there and say the same things... but the words will be different. People want a clear-cut position. That clarity can only come if civil society puts pressure.... When Shaheen Bagh was at its peak, many political parties felt they had made a mistake by remaining invisible.”
Former Delhi Minorities Commission chairperson Zafarul Islam Khan echoed Jha’s views. He spoke about the less well-known undertrials and the police’s inaction against BJP and Sangh parivar leaders accused of fanning the Delhi riots.
“All black laws like the UAPA need to be repealed. We regret that the Congress, which repealed the Prevention of Terrorism Act, brought in (made more stringent) the UAPA, which is much worse,” Khan said.
Bhushan said: “It seems that the brief to the police was clear — to first target the activists who helped the (anti-CAA) protests, and then target Muslims so we can blame Muslims for the riots…. It is now necessary to demand accountability from the officers who did the (riot) investigations and punish them, and those who ordered them to do so.”
Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire, said: “The reason for criminalising the anti-CAA protesters is to cover up the real perpetrators of the Delhi riots. Umar can be arrested under the UAPA but Hindutva leaders who called for genocide against Muslims were booked under flimsy sections so that they could get easy bail.”
Syeda Hameed said: “His (Khalid’s) only fault was to uphold the Constitution and oppose the CAA, NPR, NRC (which represent the new citizenship matrix). He saluted the women of Shaheen Bagh in Amravati and called for upholding Gandhiji’s ideals. He saluted the women who came out on the streets when the students of Jamia were brutally repressed, and stayed outside for 101 days. The regime was scared of this courage. For them an educated Muslim is an eyesore.”
Jasbir Kaur Nat of the CPIML Liberation’s Punjab Kisan Union — a prominent women’s organiser of peasants at the Tikri Border — and senior journalist Bharat Bhushan too spoke at the event.
Nat said: “The protesting farmers too were branded as terrorists and Khalistanis. They wanted to derail our movement too. Shaheen Bagh, just like the farmer, too had raised its voice against an unjust law. It is (BJP leader) Kapil Mishra and the rioters who should have been sent to prison, not Umar.”
Bhushan said: “The BJP is threatened by a young crop of leadership that has emerged from the people’s movement. Devangana (Kalita, a student out on bail), Umar and the others are all part of the educated, articulate, non-institutionalised organic leadership vouching for secularism and constitutionalism, for religious pluralism, ecological justice, gender justice, justice for Dalits. (They) scare this government. That is why he (Umar) is in jail.”
Several people tweeted with the hashtag #Umar1YearInjustice, demanding the release of all political prisoners, reversal of the new citizenship regime, and prosecution of the Hindutva activists for the Delhi riots that claimed 53 lives.