Sunday, March 19, 2023
HomeOpinionUmar Khalid's arrest shuts a democratic option for a generation of Indian...

Umar Khalid’s arrest shuts a democratic option for a generation of Indian Muslims

Umar Khalid looks beyond the revolutionary fantasies of a violent overthrow of the Indian State and is willing to engage with the messy ways of democratic politics.

Text Size:

My friend Hilal Ahmed, also a columnist for ThePrint, has an ensemble of icons on his study table. There is a picture of the Holy Qaba shrine that reminds you he is a five-namaz-a-day, practising Muslim. Next to that is the iconic sketch of Che Guevara, an affirmation of his roots in the Marxist intellectual tradition. And finally, there is an image of Mahatma Gandhi, a nod to his political vision and practice.

Over the years, I have come to see that there is something strange, not in what my friend Hilal does, but in the fact that we find it strange. Like so much else, oddity also lies in the eyes of the beholder. We find what we see on Hilal’s study table odd – more than a Bengali household with photographs of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Lenin next to each other – because the range of identities available to a Muslim is much narrower than anyone else.

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

Two cruel choices

This ‘identity’ question came back to me when the Delhi Police arrested Umar Khalid on Sunday in connection with the February riots. You are young. You are rebellious. You are an Indian. And you happen to be a Muslim. Can you be all this, coherently, without falling foul of your conscience or finding yourself imprisoned? This is not just Umar Khalid’s dilemma. This must torment millions of young, educated Indian Muslims today.

When I was in university, I could see many young Muslims forced to make this cruel choice. Made to carry the burden of history that they did not make, and asked to furnish proof of loyalty to their own country, a young Muslim would settle for one of the two compromises: forgetting Muslim-ness or curbing rebelliousness. Most Leftists I knew chose the first path. They turned atheists, broke with their family and community, sought a home in a secular, cosmopolitan society, and sometimes discovered late in life that they remained lonely and Muslim after all. Otherwise, they quelled their rebellion within, settled to be a ‘good’ conformist Muslim, made their careers and, on occasion, found it hard to look at themselves in the mirror.

Also read: Umar Khalid’s arrest shows the future of dissent in India only gets darker from here

The third way

Umar Khalid represents a way past this cruel dilemma. I came to know him much after he had attained celebrity status, thanks to the 2016 JNU sedition case. By then I knew that the case was fictitious, that there was no evidence to link him or Kanhaiya Kumar to silly, ‘anti-India’ slogans.

Yet, I was slightly wary of this radical young leader to the Left of the established Left. I had seen many of this type in my life. Their idealism and sacrifice charmed me, but their ideology left me cold. I have often wondered which world they lived in. Thus, getting to know Umar Khalid was a pleasant surprise. Exciting but not excitable, famous but grounded, well-read, yet connected to the real world, visionary but also practical. He looks beyond the revolutionary fantasies of a violent overthrow of the Indian State and is willing to engage with the messy ways of democratic politics. Forthcoming in dealing with the questions of caste and gender, Umar Khalid is the kind of Left leader I would like to see in the future.

What really struck me most was something else: his willingness to stand up as a Muslim and his refusal to become merely a Muslim. Given that his father is from Jamaat-e-Islami, it is remarkable that Umar has avoided being a Muslim fundamentalist or someone who shuns Muslim identity altogether. He is neither a believing nor a practising Muslim. Unlike my friend Hilal, Umar does not offer Namaz. His partner, who is his intellectual and political companion as well, is a Bengali Hindu. That would hardly please the Muslim community. He speaks about the plight of the Pasmanda (backward caste) Muslims, which must irritate the Muslim elite. Being any shade of the Left is a strict no-no in the Muslim political life so far.

Yet, Umar Khalid speaks unapologetically about the experience of being a Muslim. He catalogues the plight of the community as recorded in official documents like the Sachar Committee report. He links it to the plight of all the other marginalised communities: Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, women, and so on. He speaks the language of constitutional rights, just as any other leader from any other community would, yet he speaks categorically about the discrimination against Muslims, distinct from the oppression against all poor and marginalised. He leads the campaign against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, while steering clear of Muslim communal organisations. He speaks with courage and conviction — I cannot forget tens of thousands of mobile phones turning into torches, as Umar invited everyone to join Azadi slogans: Hum kya maange, azadi… bhookh se azadi… Ambedkar wali azadi

That’s Umar Khalid. Young. Idealist. Rebellious. Uncompromising. Indian. And Muslim — all at the same time. That’s what makes him an icon for the youth today. Especially for the new educated middle-class Indian Muslims, desperately seeking to move away from the clutches of clerics, from the prison of Muslim ghettos, from the stereotypical image of a Muslim.

Also read: A new freedom struggle for India must be based on a new nationalism. No short-cuts will do

Another farce that hides a tragedy

This Umar Khalid is under arrest today. On ridiculous charges, under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, one of the most dreaded anti-terror laws. The Delhi Police would like you to believe that this man, who was under police protection since 2018 (he has a policeman ‘guarding’ him all the time) and presumably under electronic surveillance, managed to design and execute a grand conspiracy of violence, in the national capital. You can accuse Leftists of anything, but not of communal violence.

That’s what the Delhi Police wants you to believe in the case of Umar Khalid. They want you to assume that he was in league with the Popular Front of India (PFI), the kind of Muslim communal organisation that he has fought against. They want you to believe that he held a secret meeting on 8 January to plan violence during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Delhi, when no one even knew about Trump’s visit. If he was a Yadav or a Yechury, these charges would be laughed off and the Delhi Police would be asked to hire a better script writer. But he is a Muslim.

If you are young, rebellious, Indian and a Muslim, how would you read Umar’s arrest? You can’t help being young. Perhaps you can’t but be conscientious. You don’t wish not to be a Muslim, not under duress. What are your options?

Umar Khalid’s arrest may not be a tragedy for him and his cause. Perhaps, as Bal Gangadhar Tilak said, his cause may be served better by his incarceration than his remaining free. He might well emerge as a national hero that he so deserves to be. The tragedy is that it closes a dignified, democratic option for a whole generation of Indian Muslims. That is truly a tragedy for the idea of India.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Actually this good news. This person who is arrested is not even remotely Muslim, and if he was in the open he was only misguiding the Muslim youth.

    Muslims don’t need any indigenous, law abiding, patriotic leaders anymore. Far from shying away from the “history they did not make”, they are embracing it whole heartedly and are proudly their religion on their sleeves. They have shunned such emaciated rabble rousers like Umar Khalid and started to unabashedly imitate their predecessors from the “7th century”, like Khalid ibn Waleed and Muhammad bin Qasim.

    BJP is unwittingly paving the way for the Shariah in India.

  2. It cannot be a sin to be a Muslim in India. Under egalitarian secular constitution of India the citizens can practice and profess any religion of his choice and follow the political philosophy he likes. But the present political dispensation is making living of Muslims difficult because of ruling party’s fascist mindset. Hope our legal system will come to the rescue of political victims like Umar and make India a free place, free for every citizen, irrespective of his or her religion and political leaning, to live in peace and dignity.

  3. The Print attempt to print great news about Khalid a hero of times without much substance. The theme of living as a Muslim in India is unacceptable. Let Khalud or print answer three straight questions.
    1. Are Muslims in India are poor, remained uneducated because they are Muslims and state neglected them or because they abhor modernity and live in Islamic dogma?
    2. There are many other non Hindu communities in India whose numbers are so low compared to Muslims and they are living happily securely then why 15 crore strong Muslims feel insecurity.
    3. There are many identified communally sensitive towns like Meerut, Hyderabad old city, Ahmedabad etc and why all the communally sensitive towns are with high Muslim population.
    4. In India in many states education is free upto class 10 and upto university for girls. What prevented Muslims from utilising those facilities and get educated.
    So better stop victim narration and search their own souls and better the new champion Khalid do it and also Print.

  4. Where were you when your so called hero who is actually a ZERO was inciting riots? And talking about splitting the country.

    Ye qtiye articles kisi qtiye ko ich sahi lagenge.

  5. Sorry…we will not support your journalism in any way including monetary if so make terrorist like Umar Khalid, a generation hero….u r the bad media

  6. Umar Khalid looks beyond the revolutionary fantasies of a violent overthrow of the Indian State and is willing to engage with the messy ways of democratic politics.

    Oh! so very nice of him. He does not fantasize a violent overthrow of the Indian State like what most other Ultra-Leftists think of. Oh! he is also willing to engage with the messy ways of democratic politics! He is an Angel! We must all be so grateful to him for such noble intentions. We must eulogize his ideals and pray that many more such Umar Khalids are born in India.

    But the real question is, does he have a choice? Had his community been in a majority in India, probably he would have chosen the path that his coreligionists chose in what is Pakistan and East Bengal today. He would have shown his true colours. No? May be we should wait till his community becomes a majority.

    • The ancestors of people like Umar Khalid last century won independence for India. Instead of going to Pakistan or East Bengal to be in a theocracy, Umar Khalid’s ancestors chose to stay in India and align themselves to India’s constitutional values of secularism. He is protesting because your community is turning India into a Hindu Pakistan. Look at everything that is wrong with Pakistan. That is what you are trying to inflict on India.

  7. Why no articles for Natasha Narwal & Devangna Kalita ?
    Yogendra ji! If not from anyone else, learn from your Hero; Umar Khalid whom you claim to be irreligious and secular. You wrote about him because he is Muslim & you didn’t write about Natasha Narwal & Devangna Kalita because they are Hindus. Just think ! Who is more secular to talk about; Umar Khaled who inspite of being greatest human being ever fights for his religious fellows OR two young ladies were were fighting for Muslims inspite of being Hindus.

  8. I wish to ask so called progressive Muslims:
    a. Why do you hate persons like Mr Arif Mohammad Khan?
    b.Why do you support takeover of Hagia Sophia?
    c.Had you been born in a Hindu family would you have supported Islam? How birth is related to religious faith?
    d.Why can’t you have faith in 2 or more religions?

    • “d.” is the only ISSUE.
      If all religions accept that all other religions are as good as theirs,ie.e. “Your GOD is as GOOD as mine”….you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize the immense potential for lasting peace (religious) not only in India but also all over the world.
      It only requires all religious leaders and the media to repeatedly propagate this. A basic tenet for peaceful co-existence, would you say?

      THAT is the only change required.

    • Not a so-called progressive Muslim but here is the reply:
      a. Arif Mohamad Khan sounds like a Muslim name. If you do not like Muslim, then is that not enough of a reason to hate him?
      b. Same reason that you support the destruction of Babri Masjid and the killings of countless Muslims just to build a temple there.
      c. You can answer this one yourself, too. If you were born in a Muslim family, would you be just as hateful towards Hindus as you now are towards Muslims? That is how birth is related to religious faith.
      d. If you could have faith in two or more religions, then why aren’t you also a so-called progressive Muslim? You would have been able to answer all of these questions you are posing to them.

  9. Is it not surprising that only those who participated in Anti CAA/NRC protests are being framed by the Delhi Police which reports to the Home Minister of the Central Government.Whereas , People like Kapil Sharma,Anurag Thakur who made inflamatory and communal statements are not being arrested for inciting the riots.What is more appalling is that kapil sharma has issued a deadline to Delhi Police to end the protests or face consequences.Imagine ,issuing threats to the police and still not being held accountable for these heinous acts which goes against the principal of democracy. But, this is the BJP way of attacking the protesters when they cannot arrest people for peaceful protests.Shame on Delhi Police.

  10. he is arrested for exercising that non-democratic option only.

    Riots in delhi were times to coincide with trump’s visit for international media attention and sufficient ammunition was arranged to create havoc.
    youth like umar and sharjeel anyway have no respect for the democracy.

  11. Mr Yadav is talking through his hat…. If he is talking of the Muslims carrying the burden of history……Who is responsible for it ???…. His fellow travelers… the left liberals, the left historians….who would not bring the truth of this country for fear of antognising the muslims….the entire politics of the country from 1947 to 2014 was not to hurt the muslims…..all others did not matter…. similarly he talks about the economic status of muslims… blaming everybody else except the muslims themselves… well the result is for everybody to see… the muslims have to decide for themselves, whether they will wrap themselves in the cloak of victimhood or break the shackles and fight themselves up to become relevant and important citizens of this great country…they have to realise that they themselves are their biggest enemies…. no one else….

  12. I reached my threshold and I don’t care about any muslim in my country. Where were you during Bangalore muslim riots ? Why do you criticise only Hindus ?

  13. If you look at the replies here…
    1. They will be mostly against Muslims and minorities.
    2. You have no idea how many are fake and how many belong to the BJP IT cell. Most probably, many are but they influence readers.
    3. That is the problem of India. In a few days modern era with a secular Constitution, we are still stuck in the medieval era.

    Frankly, we don’t need Muslims to divide us. We do a good job of division without them because of our caste system. The Bhima Koragon case is a good example that without the Muslims too, the Right Wing politicians will still always divide the country. Aah. For some common sense.

  14. Goodness! Where should I begin. The very first paragraph hit a nerve with me. So he has pictures of the holy shrine, Che, and Gandhi together on his table.. so what?? I’m not surprised with that and I believe a lot of people would be un-wowed with it. But, the oddity does lie in the eye of the beholder and in this case, this author. It’s the deep seated inherently narrow vision that people like him have which makes the three pictures on Khalid’s table stand out as ‘odd’ to him. So first, empty your biased mental cup. Second.. ‘you can accuse the leftists of anything, but not of communal violence.’ really!! how naive. Almost stupidly so. Umar Khalid will do well to try and uplift his community first. Encourage education, a shift away from radical clerics and Sharia, and all other damaging idealogies that Muslims can fall prey to. This is not to say that Hindus don’t but since we’re talking in the context of Khalid being a Muslim, let him first try and do something truly worthwhile for his community. If activists like him focus on group upliftments first, the country will progress automatically. Of course, these pursuits will not lead to hige name recognition and infamy and since any publicity is good publicity, Khalid and the likes of him will not get the attention they want. So please, rest your thought laurels and lets keep men like Umar Khalid more responsible for their speech and actions.

  15. Our great nation has been invaded and ruined … then came the British Crusaders and brain washed the population…till date there are external forces very actively using freedom of expression as a guise to destablize the nation…. This Umar Khalid guy is the poster boy of these evil characters/left overs …. and the print is its mouth piece..

  16. Umar Khalid openly supported Burhan Wani and advocates separation of Jammu and Kashmir from India. I am genuinely glad that this man is behind the bars for the loss of innocent lives in Delhi. No amount of whitewashing can change the facts.

  17. India in current times is simultaneously living in a utopia and dystopia. For BJP followers this is the best of times, the Hindu glory is finally returning after 1000 years. For BJP opposers this is the death of democracy and move towards complete dictatorship.

    Perhaps the utopia and dystopia are the two sides of the same coin or is it?

  18. Quote” Exciting but not excitable, famous but grounded, well-read, yet connected to the real world, visionary but also practical. He looks beyond the revolutionary fantasies of a violent overthrow of the Indian State ” Unquote. I have the same qualities, but on a right wing platform. will you support me yogendra yadav? Or you only see qualities if a person is left of centre? Arent you biased?

  19. They can arrest Umar but not his thoughts we will love him even more. One day right wing fake news agenda party will see that this umar khalid as a national social political reformer.

    • hahahah he is next MOHAMMAD, search for his AYESHA. A student islamic movement of India terrorist will never be any reformer. Do reforms in your community. India does not care about this thug. He is going to jail.

  20. 1) ANTI CAA PROTESTORS want HINDUS to be punished in pakistan Afghanistan and Bangladesh for idol worship and hence the opposition.

    2) If all the people of the continent are the same what would have happened to HINDUS in INDIA if they were in minority.

    3) Hindus believe in education and science and prosperity in current life and not after life.


    5) HINDUS don’t believe in conversion but will not accept proselytizers with fake propaganda.

    6) The ” under educated jhollawallas ” are the biggest scamsters which was upon us throughout congrass rule .

  21. India has adopted democracy for peace loving Indians. For crooks like Yogendra Yadav and anti-national like Umar Khalid democracy is a tool to create chaos, unrest and animosity among Indians. Their place is in Jail.

  22. A looser venting out his rant after loosing the elections badly . These kind of articles awaken peaceful neutral voters about the dangers posed to the society and nation by these so called liberal- left – secular gangs and turn them into modi voters. So keep writing these biased articles and help modi keep his power after 2024 too.

  23. I have often asked this question of The Print, and never got a reply, what is the link it has with Shri Yogendra Yadav that it repeatedly keeps giving him this platform for his rambling rants? No other politician, unemployed, unemployable or anything else, gets such publicity. And is Shri Khalid so important his mere arrest, not even conviction, will radicalise Indian Muslims?

  24. Have you read ravindra nath tagore he said in this country there will be always hindu muslim conflict & permanent solution will be always hindu solution to the problem,when he said hindu solution he does not say muslim will perish from india,He mean all will co exist including muslim which is basic nature of india from thousands of years,unlike muslim solution where only muslim exit like in many islamic country,if this ideological conflict would have happen in 1947 than we should not have partition

  25. The answer for muslims is Pakistan. That was the final settlement and all muslims unhappy in India, for any reason, must go there

  26. Yogendra Yadav is a despicable character. He constantly plays the identity theme amd makes every issue communal to suit his political ideology. He belongs to the Prashant Bhushan gang who feel that only that what they say can be right and all others are lying. Many leaders like Umar Khalid, Mani Shankar Aiyyar, Sonia Gandhi, professional Modi hater like Harsh Mandar, Tahir Hussain who master minded the riots have all given provocative speeches. Tahir Hussain has confessed to Umar Khalid’s role in the planning and executing riots which left 53 innconents dead. But trying to repeatedly refer to his religious background is the typical agenda of these Leftists like Yogendra Yadav. They are the bigger enemies of the nation. No one has the freedom of speech to give slogans and incite people against the country they stay in. And who is Yadav to hand out character certificates ? Let the police do its job. This is a old worn out strategy of Left wingers supported by congress that they quickly jump to the defence of the accused. This is nothing but sophisticated way of inciting communal sentiments. Highly Deplorable.

    • Absolutely correct. Yogendra and many of his ilk have concluded that muslim means innocent. I haven’t seen any argument from Yogendra in cases where hindus are arrested.

    • The sad fact of this world is that almost all communists in all countries have always tried their level best to destroy the country and society they were born and live in. Starting from Stalin to Brezhnev to Mao to Ho Chi Min to Castro to Tito. Their sole accomplishment are mass executions and terror to get people to do what they want and suppress dissent. In their own words when they are in minority they try and prefer multi Marty democracy and as soon as they are in power throw away the constitution. Remarkably similar to Islam. When in minorities ask for secularism and democracy but as soon as 40% ask for a division of country and when more than 50 % ask all minorities to convert or die. Same philosophy. in his entire article he gives zero denial of the fact that CAA is discriminatory but labels it as such. Zero evidence that Umar didn’t give any inciting speeches and no denial of any of the charges.

      Having said that, I must also add that laws like UAPA or Sedition Act has no place in any civilized country. The idea of justice requires us to rather lose 10 criminals but make sure we don’t prosecute one innocent person. So yes, government should not book people for a year without charge. That’s against every fiber of my democratic and social values. Either book the person on proper charges or let him out. Don’t use such vague communist style laws. It’s shameful and deeply disturbing.

  27. Umar is no social reformer and neither are his intentions nobel. If they had been, he would have worked to change his lot rather than posture and fight. That is the problem with left and with Muslims – Fight first. Never bother to work and reform… In his case, he is both! He was at the CAA site purely for politics and not to improve the group he claims to represent.

    Btw, you too are in the same boat. Can’t win an election and administer. Subconsciously you console your ineptitude and uselessness with these articles and morchas. Get a job and feel the burden of surviving, you will understand… (Umar too… He is living on others money)

  28. So you want us to believe that you know everything and he is innocent to the core.
    Now all of you liberals who offer cover fire is well known to the Indian public and your dirty tricks are not going to work

    • Some things that the writer conveniently forgot to mention :
      1) Umar Khalids father was also in SIMI a banned terror organisation
      2) the claim that leftists have not been communal is laughable. From Bengal to kerala (where leftists are partnering up with PFI and other islamist organisations)
      3) him not being a 5 time namazi is not some claim to Secularism. Most human beings around the world, sacrifice some aspect of their faith in public life and secular spaces. It’s the only practical way to live.
      4) The role he played or didn’t play can be judged by the court.
      5) don’t project him as a hero for Muslim youth and if he is God help them all.

  29. THe moment you write religion in this column, your credibility has finished. Had this article been written without it, then we would have believed you.

  30. ” Views are personal”. Yes surely, these views from people like Umar and Yogendra are just that.; some personal views and in no way represent the views of any large sections of the society. Some of these “personal views” reach the media for various reasons. But there are about millions of other personal views, many of them more informed as they are not form campuses with preconceived notions and drawing rooms, that do not reach the media.
    There is a larger India than “personal views”.
    Just saying.

  31. Well Yogendra you and Yechury instigated so called anti India uprising but now you are crying like a baby?Muslims are against CAA and other implemented legal proceeding in democratically elected parliament unlike Pakistan.

  32. I cannot expect an article any other way from Yogendra Yadav. I sometimes think India should have become a communist country like China. I could imagine the plight of Yogendra Yadav , Swara Bhaskar and their ilk. In jails are may be in US?

  33. Yogendra Yadav childhood bane is salim , he himself openly says this , why donot he and all these Leftists concert in to Islam and go to Pakistan, Hindus should have sent all these guys to Pakistan in 1947.

  34. This article is a disgrace. I subscribe to The Print on account of its unbias reporting; while I understand that Y Yadav is independent writer, this piece has no ethical place in journalism. As an independent reviewer, I can see the flaws. This was bad choice by The Print.

  35. This is what this Govt can do and they are good at it. But we have reasons to believe that only good will come out it for the Nation in the days to come. The Indian youth is with Umar Khalid.

  36. Not sure if umar khalid’s arrest can be linked to some of his other actions and converting him to a hero is a right option. Anyways it is ur choice though it might be avery poor choice.

Comments are closed.