Umar Khalid; bravest young voice who spoke for constitutional values: Academics, rights activists

Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

Hours after Delhi Police arrested former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader and United Against Hate activist Umar Khalid in connection with the northeast Delhi violence conspiracy case, a group of prominent activists in the country condemned the arrest and demanded the rights activist’s immediate release.

“We condemn the arrest of Umar Khalid, one of our bravest young voices who spoke for the constitutional values of our country,” reads a statement issued by PUCL national president Ravi Kiran Jain and general secretary V Suresh, human rights lawyer Mihir Desai, senior lawyer ND Pancholi, Director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies Mary John, Delhi University professors Satish Deshpande and Apoorvanand, author and Delhi School of Economics professor Nandini Sundar,  former Amnesty India chief Aakar Patel, IAS officer-turned-activist Harsh Mander, author Farah Naqvi, and Amnesty International’s South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik.

The recent arrest was taken amid allegations from politicians and activists that the police have been targeting the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for mobilising peaceful anti-government protests, starting December 2019.

Khalid who was arrested under draconian UAPA after 11 hours of interrogation, will be produced before a Delhi court on Monday.

The group said that Khalid has been subjected to a malicious investigation targeting peaceful anti-CAA protestors.

“With deep anguish, we have no doubt in saying that this investigation is not about the violence in February 2020 in the national capital, but on the completely peaceful and democratic protests across the country against the unconstitutional CAA,” they said.

The signatories told media that Umar Khalid was one of the hundreds of voices that spoke up in favour of the Constitution across the country during these anti-CAA protests, always foregrounding the need for peaceful, non-violent, and democratic means.

According to them, Khalid has emerged as a strong and powerful voice of young Indians in favour of the Constitution and of democracy.

“The repeated attempts by the Delhi police to implicate him in a number of fictitious cases of conspiracy for the Delhi violence are part of a brazen attempt to try to suppress his voice of dissent,” they said.

Rights activists also noted that it is very significant that of the 20 arrested by Delhi Police 19 are under the age of 31 and of which 17 have been charged under the draconian UAPA and have been imprisoned on charges of a conspiracy for the Delhi violence whereas those who actually instigated and participated in the violence has not been touched.

“Of the ones incarcerated, five are women, except for one all are also students,” the statement added.

They criticised the Delhi Police investigation and said that the nature of the investigation has been mainly to silence democratic voices and instill fear, and this is precisely the objective of this witch hunt.

Given the past precedence of physical attacks in court premises in the instance of former JNU students union president Kanhaiya Kumar, and the attempt on then JNU student leader Umar Khalid’s life in 2018 by gunmen in public, the group pf rights activists urged that it is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any threat to his life and safety so long as he remains in the custody of the state/judiciary.