In the afternoon on August 13, reports emerged from New Delhi that Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was shot at by an unknown assailant. According to the reports, the incident took place outside the Constitution Club of India. Khalid escaped unhurt while the assailant fled the spot after discarding the weapon.
Social media was quick to react. A video soon began to circulate in which a journalist with Dainik Bhaskar, Santosh Kumar, claimed that while there was indeed an incident of firing outside the Constitution Club, Khalid was not present there at the time.
Kumar claimed he was witness to a scuffle involving two persons near a tea kiosk close to the gate of the Constitution Club. One of them had a gun in his hand. He pushed the other to the ground and was about to shoot him, but he was thwarted by the people there. The attacker fled after firing a shot in the air some distance from the spot. Kumar claimed Khalid was not at the spot when the scuffle took place and, in fact, emerged from the Constitution Club sometime later.
This video featuring Kumar was tweeted by Vikas Bhadauria, a journalist with ABP News. It was retweeted over 1,600 times within no time and prominent right-wing social media users began to assert on the basis of Kumar’s “eyewitness account” that Khalid had staged the attack. Postcard News founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde shared Kumar’s video and so did some of those who are followed on Twitter by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The claim that Khalid was not at the place of the incident quickly made its way to Facebook as well.
Santosh Kumar’s flip-flop
Kumar, the journalist whose on-camera testimony was circulated by right-wing social media users to claim Khalid had indulged in drama, later altered his version of the events and said he was not sure whether the person targeted by the assailant was Khalid or not.
It may be reiterated that Kumar had earlier said that Khalid was not present at the spot when the incident occurred. Alt News contacted Khalid to ascertain his version of what transpired outside the Constitution Club. “The incident happened next to a tea stall outside the Constitution Club,” he said. “When we started leaving, a guy came from behind, held my neck and overpowered me. I fell down in the mud. He took out a pistol and started aiming at me. My instinctive reaction was not to let him aim and hold his hand away. My friends also started resisting and pushed him aside. He then ran from the spot.”
Alt News also found a video on Facebook of Khalid describing the incident to reporters.
It may be noted that the entire sequence of events as described by Khalid matches Kumar’s version but for a key difference: according to Khalid, the person attacked was him whereas Kumar first claimed Khalid was not present at the spot and then expressed doubt about his own claim.
Alt News also spoke to Banojyotsna Lahiri, who had accompanied Khalid to the Constitution Club and was present when the incident occurred. “We were all having tea outside the venue,” he recounted. “As I was going, someone came and held Umar from the back. I thought it may be a friend, and he pinned him [Khalid] down. I was standing to the left of Umar, he was holding the gun with his right hand which I did not see initially. I tried to push him, and he took two steps back and brandished a gun. When he stepped back, we saw the gun and then he started running. We took Umar to safety inside the gate of Constitution Club. After that, the three of us ran behind him [the attacker] but by that time he had gained some distance. We heard a shot being fired. He had escaped but we saw the gun lying on the street.”
Speaking to Alt News, Shariq Husain, who was also present at the spot with Khalid recalled, “We were having tea and when we were leaving, someone held Khalid by the throat and pinned him down. He had a gun which was pressed on Khalid’s stomach. I started kicking the assailant’s hand. He then started running away and I chased him for a distance. He turned around and shot at me. He then left the gun right there and fled the spot.”
The statements of these three people present at the place of the incident, including Khalid, are consistent in their version of the sequence of events. This sequence of events also largely matches with what has been described by Kumar, whose version has been widely shared on social media. However, Kumar’s assertion that Khalid was not present at the spot but came later contradicts the eyewitnesses’ claim that Khalid was in fact the target of attack. Kumar tweeted that he was not sure if the assaulted person was Khalid.
Although the police have said they are conducting an investigation into the incident, it is a matter of concern that an aggressive, concerted campaign is already underway on social media, on the basis of a dubious testimony by a reporter who has since changed his version, to brush off the seriousness of the incident and to discredit Khalid’s claim that he was attacked.
This article was first published by Alt News.