Thursday, April 18, 2024

“Narendra Modi: coward and insecure, Umar Khalid: brave,” say activists and friends on Khalid’s 1000th day in jail

As Umar Khalid, rights activist and a doctoral degree holder from Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU), completes 1000 days of incarceration under draconian UAPA, concerned citizens, activists, his friends and family gathered today at the Press Club of India to commemorate and remember the ‘struggles for social justice.’

Khalid who was arrested on 13 September 2020, is booked under terror law, UAPA, in a conspiracy case that burdens the responsibility of the 2020 anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi on Muslim activists. Khalid was targeted for leading peaceful protests opposing the discriminatory Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).

The event was focused on a discussion around ‘Democracy, Dissent, and Censorship.’

The gathering was attended and addressed by several notable personalities including RJD MP Manoj Jha, Umar Khalid’s father SQR Ilyas, renowned academic Prabhat Patnaik, senior journalist Ravish Kumar, Supreme Court Lawyer Shahrukh Alam and moderated by activist and author Gurmehar Kaur.

“It comes with a great disappointment that a highly talented and accomplished student, holding a doctoral degree, has been unjustly framed as an “anti-national” by the state, aided by a subservient media,” said Ravish Kumar.

He went on to say: ”Despite Khalid’s prolonged incarceration spanning a thousand days, the substantial turnout at the gathering signifies that he has not been forgotten and lies profoundly public in the public memory and his fight is alive in your efforts.”

Kumar stated that Khalid remained deprived of bail throughout this long duration, despite the emphasis placed by numerous former judges and even the Supreme Court on upholding the fundamental principle of personal liberty for an accused individual comes to him as a disappointment.

Several international and national bodies including United Nations have flagged the Delhi Police investigation against Khalid and other Muslim activists as “bogus” and an attempt to silent dissidents.

Kumar emphasised that a time will come when one night the conscience of the judiciary would wake up, and realise that the hands of the law are “not just long” but also “painted with blood” when it was being misused by the hands of politicians and state.

Kumar said that that if the government will only read Umar Khalid’s Ph.D, they will know what kind of person Khalid is and what kind of ideas and thoughts he hold. 

Advocate Shahrukh Alam, a Supreme Court lawyer mentioned that there was an attempt by the state to cancel this event, as the organizers received a notice from the police saying, “There is a discreet input of disturbing law and order situation” with respect to this event.

Taking a jibe at the cancelling attempt by the authorities, she said: “We are the mothers of all democracies and we very much understand the compulsion and pressure the police officer must be in that he sent that notice.”

She added: “There have been multiple hate speech events against Muslims, innumerable ‘mahapanchayats’ and ‘dharamsansads’ that instigate violence across the country but apparently no action has been taken against those who organize such events, despite the Supreme Court’s consistent reminders.”

“Apparently, only ‘dissent’ will disturb the law and order situation in this country,” said Alam.

Umar Khalid’s father and President of Welfare Party of India, SQR Ilyas asked: “Where will we go if Parliament and judiciary fail us?”

Ilyas accused authorities and police of deliberately pushing his incarceration. He said: “So far nothing has been found against him, but court and police are using unnecessary arguments to prolong his prosecution.” 

He emphasized that this commemoration is for every political prisoner who sought to make the government accountable for their actions, draconian and discriminatory laws. 

He went on to say: “We are taking this time of incarceration as a time to learn. Umar is utilizing his time even inside the jail, as he never misses an opportunity to read and learn.”

“Umar dreamt of India and he is working towards the idea of India he believes in, an India where everyone lives freely, nobody sleeps without food, an India nobody lives under an open sky. We all believe in the same idea of India,” said Ilyas.

Bail is a rule and jail is an exception, but it seems it has reversed now. Dissent looks more like a crime than essence in a democracy”, he concluded.

Rashtriya Janta Dal MP Manoj Jha spoke at length about democracy and dissent; why it is important to safeguard it at the present times.

He said: “Democracy is not only about elections, as our external affairs minister thinks. Democracy is all about institutions and how our institutions are working, be it judiciary, executive, legislature or media.”

“Everything is being pinned on national security, but truth is that you as an establishment are insecure,” Jha said.

“I have never seen such a coward and insecure Prime Minister in the history of India,” added Jha.

Professor Jha went on to say: “Just like everything else, this regime also have an expiry date and I believe that expiry date is near, especially when this establishment has nothing to do with human sentiment and plight.” 

“These thousand days are of resistance, civil liberties, civil rights, human rights and in the memory of resistance of our political prisoners who are fighting in jails. Don’t fight your battles on the promise of political parties”, he added.

Khalid is charged under FIR 59/2020 with offenses under the IPC, 1967 Arms Act, and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Charges include but are not limited to rioting (Sec. 147 IPC), rioting with a deadly weapon (Sec. 148 IPC), murder (Sec. 302 IPC), attempted murder (Sec. 307 IPC), sedition (Sec. 124A IPC), “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” (Sec. 153A IPC), unlawful activities (Sec. 13 UAPA), terrorist acts (Sec. 16 UAPA), raising funds for terrorist acts (Sec. 17 UAPA), and conspiracy (Sec. 18 UAPA).

On April 15, 2021, a Delhi court granted Khalid bail.  Khalid, however, was forced to remain in prison in light of other draconian charges against him.

In the past 1000 days, Umar Khalid, who is currently awaiting trial, has spent the majority of his time in jail, with the exception of a week. During this period, he was granted a seven-day interim bail to attend his sister’s wedding, after already spending over 800 days incarcerated.

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