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In Modi’s India, Umar Khalid preaches peace but is called a ‘terrorist’: Jignesh Mevani

We must not forget that Umar Khalid was singled out because of his name, because he came from a family of practising Muslims.

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After a slew of politically motivated arrests and an unabated witch-hunt of activists, lawyers, academics and members of civil society — in both the Bhima Koregaon and Delhi riots cases — it was finally my dear friend Umar Khalid’s turn to be arrested.

This was inevitable, much as we all hoped against it. Umar has cooperated at every step of the investigation. His lawyer submitted in the court that the former JNU student was interrogated for five hours on 31 July, and for the entire day on Sunday. He travelled all night despite the ongoing pandemic to reach Delhi from Kolkata and joined the investigation. Umar, who has been arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, was not even present in Delhi between 23 and 26 February — when the riots broke out — yet he is being called the “mastermind” in this grand farce.

If the rise of authoritarianism in India, today, had to be evidenced by the stark contrast in just two videos, then sample this: Since February of 2020, we have seen the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, on record, yelling ‘Goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the traitors)’. On the other side you have Umar, clearly saying:We won’t respond to violence with violence. We won’t respond to hate with hate. If they spread hate, we will respond to it with love. If they thrash us with lathis, we keep holding the tricolour.

Also read: Government is using sedition as an iron hand to curb free speech, says Justice M.B. Lokur

Preach peace only to be labled as ‘terrorist’…

In Narendra Modi’s India, a man named Umar Khalid preaches peace and solidarity only to be called a ‘terrorist’, a ‘traitor’ and be accused of riots where the majority of the victims have been Muslims. In this grand-dystopia, which puts even George Orwell to shame, while Kapil Mishra’s ‘hate-speech’ and now his calls to hang Umar are in full public display, government-friendly media has chosen to look the other way, yet again, and vilify those who talk of love and peace.

I have known Umar since his first media trial of February 2016 and his ensuing arrest and the sedition case. Back then, he was part of that motley group of JNU students who spoke truth to power and represented the wave of dissent against Modi’s emerging majoritarian democracy. As the years rolled by, many of us saw how Umar, Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya took different paths in their shared dissent against the Modi government.

While Kanhaiya’s flair for Hindi oratory and roots-to-ground Bihari connection stamped his visible appeal as a future politician, Umar and Anirban had a markedly more academic background. I, too, saw Umar as a promising scholar-activist at first, and I think even he didn’t want to embrace the mass politics approach. Yet, after the new wave of impunity since the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), I have genuinely seen Umar grow into a mass leader. Here was a man going all over India between December 2019 and February 2020, talking about communal harmony, secularism and constitutional values.

I am aware that for many, now, Umar is a voice of the Muslim community. However, while I see that as much-needed, I would like to see him not be pigeonholed as a ‘Muslim leader’, but as a mass youth leader. Umar was at Bhima-Koregaon event in January 2018, where, yet again, the ‘Radio Rwanda’ and political actors accused him of sparking ‘riots’ while Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide roamed scot-free. Even then, Umar was not just a ‘Muslim voice’, but an equally anti-caste, socialist voice, and someone who deeply cared for Ambedkarite traditions of social justice and civil liberties.

Also read: Swara Bhaskar, Mehbooba Mufti, Prakash Raj protest Umar Khalid arrest, Patra, Bagga rejoice

…and face media bias

Just like the media often reduce me to ‘Dalit leader’ when they would rightfully never call Rahul Gandhi or Amit Shah as ‘Brahmin leader’ or ‘Jain leader’, it is in a similar vein that I have always felt that we must be seen as more than just our identities (without taking away our rights to be vocal about the oppression behind these identities). The Umar I have known since his JNU days was also not religious. And yet, back in 2016, the State and the government-friendly media tasked it upon themselves to convert Umar to Islam.

We must not forget that Umar was singled out because of his name, because he came from a family of practising Muslims, because he spoke about the injustices meted out against Indian Muslims. Just like the media made activist Anand Teltumbde and others like him into ‘Naxalites’ because they are Dalits who understand Marxism. Just like the media made Sushant Singh Rajput’s partner Rhea Chakraborty into a ‘drug-peddling murder-accused’ without any proof, but did nothing in Jiah Khan’s case despite her leaving a suicide note naming her former partner. Similarly, the courts, the police, and Modi-Amit Shah machinery have made an atheistic Umar into a Muslim, because what else was needed to vilify him?

It is shocking to me how, both then and now, Umar has been called a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, and that he will face fabricated charges. It seems that almost every political prisoner today is specifically being made to pay the price of either coming from a Muslim background, or being a Leftist. The Delhi riots charge sheets accuse Umar, United Against Hate founder Khalid Saifi, my friends from Pinjra Tod (Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal) and many others of weaving a “grand conspiracy“. But the biggest conspiracy is coming from somewhere else. It’s the script where constitutional, pro-justice and pro-oppressed voices become Jihadis and Naxalites, and are accused of laying ‘Islamist-Maoist’ plots to destroy India.

Yes, India has been destroyed, and not by the likes of Umar, but by those in power.

My dear friend Umar — a comrade-in-humour — and his struggles will go down in history books not as destroyers, but as builders of India, as the architects of a better India — of Bhagat Singh and Babasaheb’s dreams.

Jignesh Mevani is an independent MLA in the Gujarat assembly and convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch. Views are personal.

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  1. So sad.
    You have to tolerate modi-shah-yogi’s fascism for Atleast 9 more years-of not less….
    They will keep kicking anti national asses.
    People like umar khalid deserve to be in the camps of Uigher Muslims to experience real fascism.
    They need to stand against shiv sena-challenging sanjay raut or stand against mamata Bannerjee to get taste of what fascism actually is.

  2. Do you people even understand the terms ‘investigation’ and ‘research’? If you don’t how come you are running a print media website citing your own rubbish opinions. You are only doing a disservice to yourself.

  3. In Modi’s India RaGa calls choukidar Chor Hai, high lighting corruption and asks intelligent questions on defense, economy and governance so he gets called Pappu

  4. Even Mahatma Gandhi had preached ‘Peace’ a lot, yet a special community (yes, the forever victim), demanded partition. Moreover they even peacefully commited Direct Action Day before leaving. That’s the peace which The Print seeks. These people Jinnah their Father, so I am not surprised with these people calling Umar Khalid peaceful.

  5. This government has zero tolerance to hear dissenting voices and all protests are clamped down and those protesting are being targeted viciously.those in power are So highly intoxicated in power that they have lost sense of decency and justice.

  6. Well if you put voice of an opposition leader in this column then we cannot expect anything else but criticism of present govt. Umar khalid may be preaching peace but he is on record of recognizing Afzal Guru as a non- terrorist. I want to ask can Umar Khalid if he provide in writing that he denounces as the likes of Afzal Guru as enemy of Indian state. If he cannot do this then there is no question if this person being freely allowed to roam in streets of the nation.

    • There was no evidence of Afzal Guru’s direct or indirect involvement in the Parliament attack. It’s not me, it’s the judge we who wrote the verdict said. But ironically the same judge in the same verdict said, “That this case has created a tremendous resentments in the public who want to see some people go to the gallows as a retribution of the parliament attack. So finally he wrote that, to assuage the public sentiment Afzal Guru must be hanged. It’s a rare case in the legal history, not only in India but in the whole world, that a judge of the highest court delivers his judgement not on the basi of constitution but on the basis of public mood on the street. Read the verdict yourself from authentic sources. Do not go by facebook, twitter and whatsapp forwards.

  7. Rubbish. Tukde Tukde objective is not peace. It is pieces. Just the spelling is different even though the phonetic remains the same. No amount of fragrance can cover the bad smells. Let the spin machine continue.

  8. what’s happening is very sad. now india is not a democracy, not a place for liberals , seculars , socialist or people following communism. its just a place for people supporting fascism and dictatorship. so sad hitler and Mussolini are now in india.

  9. Dear Shekhar Gupta ji
    On your channel you can’t allow give platform to any hate spreader be it right or left more so ppl like Jignesh/ Umar .?else what will be the difference between you n NDTV

  10. Jignesh mevani seems in hurry to be identified as youth leader rather than just as dalit leader. But when did he last time raise an issue for non dalits? Or when did last time umar raise an issue for non Muslims? Also it’s no secret he is a hardcore leftist and people of India have rejected their ideology time and again.

    In what way praising a terrorist is an act of peace? Mr Mevani would care to answer? I think not.

  11. We will not let your struggle go in vain, we will with you, Umar, Kanhaiya, Anirban, Jignesh. Umar will definitely come out unhurt. Truth shall prevail. More power to you, Umar✊

  12. Jignesh Mevani a great tribute to your friend as you knew him. But you call him great neutral person, however you site various controversial places he was in, and you call him political victim. It’s time a message goes to the political circles of JNU political science students that Indian citizens do not tolerate, anti-national sentiments, whatever may be the religion.
    This is the only takeaway from this.

  13. I wonder how are hindus treated in Pakistan, same way as Muslims in India? For sure India is heading on footsteps of jews who treated and are treating muslims in Palestine. Let the world say whatever, we are least bothered and do all the atrocities against Muslims regularly…

  14. I am a regular reader of The Print. But, now after reading this by this person, I am sincerely reconsidering being a part of The Print. Same old narrative being peddled in the name of secularism and maligning the government. I could have written a volume about Umar Khalid and his wrong doings but thought otherwise as waste of time. Raja Mohanty

  15. has cooperated at every step of the investigation… His lawyer submitted in the court Umar was interrogated for five hours on 31 July, and for the entire day on Sunday. He traveled all night despite the ongoing pandemic to reach Delhi from Kolkata and joined the investigation. Umar, who has been arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, was not even present in Delhi between 23 and 26 February — when the riots broke out — yet he is being called the “mastermind” in this grand farce.
    All the above do not absolve of the guilt and unlawful activities he committed. Umar Kanhaiya and Anirban – preaching peace? Ha ..what a joke my countrymen?
    The author is also another bird of the same feather.

    • A person who hailed Afzal Guru and called for breaking away Kashmir, is now being painted as secular. Are you brother of Arundati Roy. All these are fit for sedition case. Unfortunately Courts talk the language of Left and leaving these people to offer ther freedom of expression. The same freedom is not available for others.

  16. Why does Omar farooq appears at all trouble spots like
    1. At JNU shouting anti india slogans
    2. Bhima Koregaon where highly inflammatory speeches were given against state
    3. Anti CAA protests where there were cries of La Ilaha Illallah …
    Why doesn’t he contest elections and come to parliament to solve peoples problems ?
    Once these anarchists contest in elections they will realise that they are worthless as kanhaiya kumar has found out .

  17. Your friend is an outright nuisance n serial offender.
    Regret that tax payers’ hard earned money is wasted, on such characterd, to provide free boarding , lodging, education, travel facilities in out universities.
    There is another superstar from Kashmir who is missing from limelight these days ???

  18. Very catchy headline to get the view but lacklustre content.

    No history of this student was explained. Without his life contextual encounters it’s hard to make a choice in whether he was completely innocent.

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