Over 200 National and International Luminaries Demand Umar Khalid’s Release from Unjust Incarceration

SQR Ilyas and his son Umar Khalid (right). — Clarion India

His father SQR Ilyas welcomes global outcry, says case to be fought more on political front than legal

Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Even as over 200 national and international scholars, academicians and artistes on Thursday released a statement in support of Umar Khalid, the incarcerated youth icon of resistance, his father SQR Ilyas said the battle for Umar’s release would have to be fought more on political front than legal.

“The Delhi Police have invoked stringent laws against him. In the name of investigations, they would keep him behind bars as long as possible. But they don’t have substantial evidence against him. They know they can’t stop him from getting bail. So they would ensure that the case does not reach proceeding level at the court. This leaves us with only one option, that is political pressure on the government,” Ilyas told Clarion India soon after a Delhi court sent Umar to judicial custody till October 22.

The former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader was arrested on September 13 for his alleged role in the Delhi riots of February. He was sent on 10-day police remand. On Thursday, the police did not seek extension of his remand. Thursday was also a day when Ilyas, his wife and daughter were allowed to see Umar at Delhi Police’s Special Cell. They were together for 40 minutes. Ilyas’ earlier request to see his son during police remand was declined by the court.

“Umar was cheerful, healthy and comfortable. He conveyed his regards and greetings to all his well-wishers and supporters,” Ilyas said. He also conveyed Umar’s message through Twitter.

A total of 208 signatories have called the investigation a “pre-meditated witch-hunt”. They said Umar was falsely implicated by the Delhi police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They demanded that the government “free” Umar and “all those falsely implicated and unjustly incarcerated for protesting against the CAA-NRC”, and “ensure that the Delhi police investigate the Delhi riots with impartiality under the oath they took as public servants bound by the Constitution of India”.

Some prominent people among the signatories are linguist Noam Chomsky, authors Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha and Rajmohan Gandhi, filmmakers Mira Nair and Anand Patwardhan, historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, and activists Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy.

“We stand in solidarity and outrage, with the brave young scholar and activist Umar Khalid… He is charged with sedition, conspiracy to murder, and under sections of India’s stringent anti-terror law, the UAPA. This process of criminalizing all dissent has been underway for a few years and even under a COVID 19 pandemic, relentless political arrests under fabricated charges are punishing the innocent long before they are brought to trial,” they wrote.

The signatories said the anti-CAA movement was “the largest and most peaceful democratic rights movement in independent India” that “followed proudly in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and embodied the spirit of the Indian Constitution drafted under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar”.

“Umar Khalid became a powerful young voice of truth in this movement, speaking at close to 100 meetings across India, in small towns and big cities, upholding the values of India’s constitution; articulating the dreams of all young Indians – of freedom from hunger, deprivation, discrimination and fear. He staked his claim to the full measure of citizenship, he spoke for all marginal peoples, and above all Umar spoke for peace,” they said.

“He has been projected as a jihadi, and a figure of hate by sections of a compromised Indian media, not only because he speaks persuasively against government policies that he believes are unjust, but also because he is Muslim,” they added.

Umar’s father welcomed the statement by national and international personalities. Ilyas said this would build pressure on the government. He cited the case of Safoora Zargar, the 23-weeks pregnant student of Jamia Millia Islamia who was granted bail after 73-day incarceration following pressure from international agencies. “Foreign pressure played an important role in her bail. The government was forced to budge,” he said.

The statement also mentions all those arrested under UAPA, including Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. “To send its chilling message to all critics, the State has chosen India’s best and brightest; the young, the fearless, the dreamers of a better country, where inequality is not a bitter pill for some to swallow, but a vile aberration to be fought against at all times,” they said.

“Currently, 19 of the 21 people falsely accused under terror laws, are Muslim. If we allow their identity to become their crime, India shall stand shamed in the global community of secular nations. These people are not terrorists, and the police investigation into the Delhi riots is not an investigation. It is a pre-meditated witch-hunt,” they said.

The statement also mentions that several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders gave “hate speeches inciting their supporters to ‘shoot the traitors’” but “no cases have been registered against them”.


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