Media Matters

Sedition frenzy: How the media painted atheist and communist Umar Khalid as an Islamist

A few news outlets have tried, without any substantiation, to tar JNU student Umar Khalid with the brush of terrorism.

Ever since the news of allegedly anti-national slogans being shouted at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus broke on Friday, the media has been dominated by Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the institution’s students’ union, who is now under arrest for sedition. Five days into the frenzy sparked by this case, the Modi government, it seems, has decided to change tack and go soft on Kumar. On Wednesday, Delhi Police Commissioner, BS Bassi announced that Kumar’s bail plea would not be opposed.

Playing a parallel tune, however, sections of the media ­­– based on shadowy, unnamed sources – have also been targeting Umar Khalid, another JNU student and one of the alleged organisers of the event at which the purportedly anti-national slogans were shouted. Khalid, however, faces an even graver charge than sedition: he has been said to have links with Islamist terror groups. This is despite the fact that Khalid has described himself as an atheist sympathiser of far left communism, making his involvement with religious fundamentalism a highly improbable matter.

Media frenzy

On its programmes, television news channel NewsX fervently informed its viewers that Umar Khalid was a “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser”. Its only source was an unidentified Intelligence Bureau report. The report omitted to mention what being a “Jaish-e-Mohhamad sympathiser” entailed or how NewsX or the Intelligence Bureau had reached this conclusion. The ominous phrase “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser” was, obviously, a powerful dog whistle.

There was more. ABP News now came up with another even more damaging and equally unsubstantiated dog whistle accusation. “Umar Khalid’s group had tried to create a furore by sticking naked pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses,” the ABP website reported.

Again, like NewsX, ABP quoted a shadowy report, this time by the Delhi Police. How the Delhi Police came to know of this wasn’t explained. Khalid himself isn’t even blamed but his “group” is. Who or what exactly is “Umar Khalid’s group" is never defined.

The ABP News report
The ABP News report

Not be left behind, Zee News ran a headline using the word “terrorist” for Khalid.

Zee News report
Zee News report

Far left communist

Attempts to paint Khalid as an Islamist are not only based on rather thin proof, they also hit a wall of logic when considered that he was a far left communist. The Democratic Students Union, of which Khalid was a part, had Maoism as its ideology and was left even by JNU’s own rather radical standards. Khalid has described himself as a “Marxist-Leninist” in writings that are publicly available. On his personal blog, Khalid, as an undergraduate student, had angry articles on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Arundhati Roy, Operation Greenhunt and Barack Obama – all from a leftist perspective.

“Even in the context of JNU, he was far to the left and was heavily involved in student politics,” said Pratik Ali, who studied with Khalid at JNU. It was much the same during his undergraduate days at Kirori Mal College, Delhi University (class of 2009). Confirmed Hany Babu, Associate Professor at the Department of English, Delhi University, "He was always active in left politics during his time as an undergraduate.”

An atheist

Given his ideology as a communist, Khalid was obviously an atheist. Khalid’s lack of religious belief is confirmed by his friends, family and acquaintances. “Khalid was irreligious and wouldn’t pray,” said Joyeeta Dey, a family friend of Khalid’s. “In fact, so firm was Khalid in his lack of belief, that it strained his relations with his family.”

Said Pratik Ali: “Umar had broken away from his family due to his lack of faith. This was something everyone knew at the JNU campus."

No journalistic checks

NewsX even claimed that Khalid had visited Pakistan as proof of his being “in contact with JeM top brass”. Khalid’s father, SQR Ilyas rubbished this charge: “How can Umar have visited Pakistan when he doesn't even have a passport?”

NewsX claims Umar visited Pakistan.

“Umar had PhD offers from US universities, yet he chose to stay back to work for India’s oppressed. This charge of him being anti-national is absurd,” said Ilyas. “Even his JNU PhD thesis is on the issues of adivasis in Jharkhand – that’s how much he cared for India and her people.”

What’s more, Khalid even appeared on television debates on Times Now and Zee News, after the slogan-shouting incident of February 9. That a person was simultaneously in contact with the Jaish-e-Mohammad and openly debating his case on Indian television is a near-absurd scenario.

IB reports debunked

After three days of television channels painting Umar as an Islamist, the Hindu, on Wednesday debunked these reports. “We have not issued any such alert," a top intelligence official told the Hindu. "It is a figment of someone’s imagination. You can always attribute anything to the IB, since we don’t come out in the open to deny or confirm.”

Even this, however, did not stop some news outlets. A report in the Hindi-language India News on Wednesday still accused Khalid of having links with terror groups.

In the end, it seems, the media’s reporting on Umar Khalid was not based on any facts and was simply a witch hunt. In Catch News, Aditya Menon blamed this on Khalid’s “Muslim” name:

Umar suits the BJP’s brief perfectly. He has the right name ­– a name around which various conspiracy theories involving Pakistan-based Jihadi organisations, the Inter-services Intelligence and Kashmiri separatists can be woven, with a few critical keywords like ‘indoctrination’, ‘infiltration’ and ‘ sleeper cells’ thrown in.

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Eleven ways Indian college life teaches you not to waste anything

College, they say, prepares you for life. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Our quintessentially Indian ability to make the most of every resource has weathered us through many a storm in life. But this talent, as it were, is developed and honed to a fine art only in college. Frugality is a prominent feature of college life—more by circumstances than by choice and perhaps the most important skill we learn is nearly 100% efficiency when it comes to making the most of resources or opportunities. This “no wastage” policy is learned through many ways in college.

Academics
When it comes to studying, the art of “no wastage” is refined in college.

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3. Stationery. Pencils are worn till they reach a stub. Broken rulers are used as long as you can still draw a straight line on them. Pens are borrowed and reused until their ink is sucked dry. Stationary is rarely wasted in the life of a college goer.

Food
Food occupies a special part of a college goer’s life and there is only one rule when it comes to food: don’t waste any.

4. Thalis. College kids are always hungry, and there are few options that provide better value for money than thalis. Thalis come in all sorts—the Gujarati kind on copper plates, the south Indian variety on palm leaves, or even the Punjabi “mini thali” found in restaurants all over the country. No matter what form they take, no food goes waste.

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7. One-by-two coffee. Because coffee shared is friendship enhanced. In college, a full cup of canteen coffee was always cheaper than two half cups, and nearly impossible to finish owing to its milky sweetness. Converting it into a one-by-two courtesy an extra white styrofoam cup ensured that neither the extra coffee went to waste, nor a chance to make a friend happy.

Travel
Space is to be shared, not hogged. Every seat in college be it on the bench or a bike or a rickshaw would be occupied till its last inch.

8. Triple seat scooter rides. College-goers of a certain vintage remember that scooters were made to accommodate more people than cars. One person riding, another in the back, and at least one if not two people sandwiched between them. While this ensures no wastage of space, it’s not to be tried by the faint-hearted.

9. Share autos. The cheapest way to travel, of course. Share autos are a lifeline for college goers. Load up your friends in an auto, share the fare, and end up with more money in your wallet.

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Freebies
College teaches you many things. The ability to not waste freebies is prominent on the list.

11. Buy one, get one free. The five little words that every college student wants to hear. Be it movie tickets, rock concert tickets, clothes, books or meals, a “one-on-one free” offer would always be utilized even if you didn’t need what the offer was selling. An unwritten if long-standing rule in college.

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