Umar Khalid, the 28-year-old PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University who had been untraceable after being accused by sections of media as being a “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser”, returned to the campus late on Sunday evening and delivered a speech, pointing out how ridiculous the charge was and that the Pakistani terror group must be wanting to take out a procession at Jhandewalan (where the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Singh has its office in New Delhi) to protest.
As WhatsApp messages calling for a night-long vigil in the light of anticipated police action were circulated across the capital, Khalid turned up at JNU’s administration block, along with Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash, all accused of sedition and named as absconders by Delhi police.
In his 14-minute-long speech, taking the media to task for spreading lies about him and conducting a media-trial, Khalid pointed out how ridiculous the charges against him were and said the university was being targeted because the students spoke for the rights of the marginalised and the oppressed. "They fear us," he said, referring to the government. "They fear our struggles and they fear us because we think."
Khalid began his speech by pointing out that it was not just a battle for the students who had been charged falsely:
Today, this battle is a battle for all of us. Today, this is a battle for this university. Today this is not just this university's struggle but the struggle of every university in this country. In fact, not just of the universities, it is a battle for this society – it is a battle for what sort of a society would we have in the days to come.
He concluded the speech by saying that he and the university will not be cowed down or intimidated and that it was not just an attack on universities:
...in the last 10 days, there have been several attacks across the country – be it on Honda workers, be it Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group or Soni Sori. We have to connect all these struggles, we have to connect all these fights, we have to stand with the oppressed everywhere, anywhere. We have to keep the tradition of JNU students union alive.
Here is a rough translation of his full speech.
My name is Umar Khalid, certainly, but I am not a terrorist.
First of all, today, at this time, for the last many days, students who have been on the roads, inside and outside the campus, and all those faculty members – all the comrades in the faculty – who have been present in this fight, I would like to thank them. And I would like to thank and congratulate each one of you.
It was not – and I understand when I am saying this, this battle was not for just a few – five-six – of us. Today, this battle is a battle for all of us. Today, this is a battle for this university. Today this is not just this university's struggle but the struggle of every university in this country. In fact, not just of the universities, it is a battle for this society – it is a battle for what sort of a society would we have in the days to come.
Things I learnt from media
In the last few days – in the last 10 days – I have come to learn things about myself that I did not know myself. I got to know that I have been to Pakistan twice. I do not have a passport, but even then I got to know that I have been to Pakistan twice.
Then I got to know – once this balloon was burst – that I am the mastermind. JNU students are supposed to have a wonderful mind, but I was the man who ensured this entire programme [of February 9] and that I was planning this programme in 17-18 universities. I did not know, I seriously did not know that my influence was so huge.
Then they said that I was planning this meeting for the last 2-3 months. If it took so many months to organise a public meeting in JNU, the university would shut down. When even this was countered, they said that I made 800 calls in the last few days. The media does not even need any proof or to say “allegedly” these days. These calls were made, according to them, and where were they made? To Gulf, to Kashmir. But at least show some proof when reporting this. First of all, even if these had been made, there is nothing wrong, but there is no proof, no comment solicited, no hearing, no nothing.
They just do not have any shame. If we expect that they would have some shame, we will be fooling ourselves. The way – against all of us – the media has portrayed a few of us, the way they have conducted a virtual media trial. The way they have tried to frame us, the way they have tried to profile us... even the government and the IB [Intelligence Bureau] has said there is no Jaish-e-Mohammad link, but even then there is no need felt to apologise, to issue a disclaimer or do anything at all.
First when I heard about it, I felt like laughing about how it would be when Jaish-e-Mohammad comes to know that someone like me is being linked with them – perhaps they would protest in Jhandewalan against such a charge.
But then one cannot expect anything better.
But the way lies were spread and things were said, if those media people think that they would get away, then it would not be so. You have started such a campaign against the people of this nation by media trials and using the entire state apparatus to that end – by labelling an adivasi as a Maoist and a Muslim as a terrorist – and perhaps because many of these people are helpless and do not have anyone to speak for them. But let me tell you, brother, that this time you have tangled with the wrong people: the students of JNU will make you pay for it. Each and every one of these media channels will be held accountable for all that they have done.
After some time, if I was concerned for anything – I was not too concerned for myself because I knew that all of you will come out in the thousands – but the first time I started panicking and getting concerned was when I saw the statements of my sister and my father.
The way they targeted my sister – I have many sisters but the way people started writing on social media about them and various threats were made: someone was told that they would be raped, someone was warned of acid attacks, someone was told they would be killed. I was reminded of the time in Kandhmal when it was reported that some people of the Bajrang Dal while raping a Christian nun, chanted Bharat Mata ki Jai. If I recall the speech of Comrade Kanhaiya on February 11, if this is your Bharat Mata, then she certainly is not our Bharat Mata and we have no shame in saying it.
And then when my father talked to the media – not talked, when he was interrogated – and the way they went into his past and made it seem as if there was some connection there. Anything, it seemed, they wanted to employ anything to frame . There are some journalists in Zee News and a gentleman in Times Now (“Bhaisaab in Times Now”) whose name I would not like to take – he also has some minor and minion reporters as well – all of them... I do not know where they get so much hatred and bile from, what is the source of their anger against JNU students I am unable to comprehend.
How do they nurture so much hatred?
Meaning of patriotism
The way a media trial was conducted against me, and here I would like to say something small about me, with me as the focus. And I have said this before... For the last six years – the last seven years that I have done politics in this campus, I have never thought of myself as Muslim. I have never also projected myself as a Muslim. And I realised that today, Muslims are not the only ones who are oppressed in the society. There is oppression against all marginalised communities – be they adivasis or Dalits.
For those of us who come from oppressed communities and societies, there is a need for us to come out of our immediacy and to look at all these things in a holistic manner.
The first time I felt like a Muslim in the last seven years was in the last 10 days. The way, to quote Rohith Vemula, I was reduced to my immediate identity. This is a very shameful thing, but they are calling me a Pakistani agent, so let me quote two lines from a Pakistani poet who has said:
Arre bhaai, Hindustan bhii meraa hai aur Pakistan bhii meraa hai
Par in dono mulquon meiN Amrikaa kaa Deraa hai
[In prosaic translation: India is mine, Pakistan is mine, but it is America which has made these both countries its bases]
And you are America’s agents. We have a government which is grovelling before America and selling the country’s minerals, its resources, its labour to big multinationals – there is even a sell-out on the education front as we have seen in WTO, the way they went down on their knees, no – totally prostrated themselves – those people will tell us the meaning of patriotism?
They don’t know and so I here say to all you fellow anti-nationals, anti-nationals of the world unite, our love for the people, our struggles know no boundaries, they know no borders. Across the world, all of us will be united – no matter which country or which country’s government we need to oppose – and they cannot intimidate us using such disgusting tactics. They cannot intimidate us. They cannot silence us.
They are cowards
I do not have to say it to all of you – but there is no need to panic today. These people – they may have a majority, they may have a lot of seats, they may have the media, they may have the state apparatus and the police and whatnot, but they are cowards.
They fear us, they fear our struggles and they fear us because we think. My friend Anirban [Bhattacharya] said something in the media on February, it is the easiest to be an anti-national: the minute you start thinking, you would immediately be labelled anti-national.
If they think that they can scare us all, then are labouring under a very big delusion. They have taken panga – tangled – with the wrong university. They have tangled with many other universities before – whether it is a battle for FTII, whether it is what happened in HCU (Hyderabad Central University) with Rohith Vemula and his friends, the way Rohith Vemula was murdered, what happened in Banaras Hindu University with Sandeep Pande – in all these battles we have fought shoulder to shoulder.
We have taken these battles to the road. We understand our responsibility. But if you feel most threatened and under pressure from JNU and think that you can just finish it off, then you must realise that many like you have come and gone before. Perhaps you have forgotten Indira Gandhi. When she came here after Emergency, she was not allowed. Perhaps you have forgotten how Manmohan Singh was opposed and shown flags when he came here to inaugurate a Nehru statue because of the way the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government was selling the country. When P Chidambaram came here and if he thought the students would welcome him, the students had shown him his place and shown him who were they are with – they are with the oppressed and the marginalised of the country and these revolting tactics of yours will not intimidate anyone. These are just mind-games. They are just testing whether we will get scared. Let’s accept that challenge that we will not get scared. We will fight back at every front. We will fight back on any issue. On any issue, every student on this campus has a right to put forward their opinion without any fear of intimidation.
Friends, these are cowards and their student wing – Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – this campus’ monkey brigade – they have been given the contract to go and disrupt anything where your agenda cannot be projected and succeed. They are encouraged to create hooliganism whenever they do not know how to respond to any challenge or critique and they are assured that everybody, from the university’s vice chancellor to registrar to police to MPs (members of Parliament), will support them.
Each and every thing – you replace Appa Rao with Jagadish Kumar (the vice chancellors of HCU and JNU) you replace Dattatreya with Mahesh Giri (BJP members of Parliament from Hyderabad and Delhi who wrote letters supporting the ABVP) – the script is the same, but there will not be any more Rohiths. We will not be reduced to our immediate identity. We will be a stardust which will fly and which will fight back. We know what we are made of, we know this campus, we cherish this campus, we have built this space and we will not let you destroy this space, we will not give you an inch, we will drive you out of each and every inch.
Friends, why is it that ABVP creates hooliganism everywhere? They know one thing and that is why they need to go and mobile the state machinery. They know one thing: that they cannot go to the people and mobilise them. In the last 10 days, after so much media propaganda and media trial, after they tried everything to bring out what they perceive as the sleeping inner patriotism in everyone, in all the protests on the road, they have only been able to mobile a handful of people and here we gathered 15,000 people (on the march in solidarity on February 18). The day Rahul Gandhi came here, and I am told he was shown a black flag, there was a report in Zee News which said that there was a division among the students, that half were here and half on the other side. Later, we found that at the most 10-12 people were on the other side and about 3,000 on this side. They know very well how to distort and to lie shamelessly.
Friends, we need to understand what this university and student agitations have always taught us: a university that does not teach dissent, it becomes a prison. And this agenda of theirs to reduce all universities into prison houses – we will defeat that agenda.
And we will be united – we will not let anyone cow us down. Yes, we have our differences, but we know how to debate those differences – when Ashutosh or Comrade Anant (Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash) organise any programme for their union, no body feels the need to go and vandalise it – we do not vandalise the programmes of one another, even if we are organising these against each other, because we know how to go to the people.
So, despite all these tactics, we will not get cowed down.
Let’s also not privilege ourselves, saying this is only an attack on the universities. To conclude my speech, in the last 10 days, there have been several attacks across the country – be it on Honda workers, be it Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group or Soni Sori. We have to connect all these struggles, we have to connect all these fights, we have to stand with the oppressed everywhere, anywhere. We have to keep the tradition of JNU students union alive.
Shukriya, Inquilab Zindabad! Thank you, long live the revolution!