The Big Story: Attack fuelled by bigotry

On Monday, Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was attacked outside New Delhi’s Constitution Club. A pistol was found at the scene of attack, left there by the assailant who fled. Khalid, fortunately and fortuitously, escaped unhurt. But the incident has clearly damaged the reputation of the Delhi police, given that it took place in the heart of the city, just two days before the Independence day when the Capital was under a heavy security blanket.

Khalid revealed later that he had informed the police about threats to his life two months ago and had sought security. The Delhi police has claimed that they had been trying to meet Khalid but were unable to do so as the student leader was busy.

This claim of the Delhi police betrays the lack of seriousness in the security establishment about the lives of persons who are considered as dissenters. When a credible threat to a life comes up, the police are expected to put in all resources available to protect the person. It was shocking that the Delhi police would blame the busy schedule of the student after sitting on his complaint for weeks.

This is the same lethargy and lack of seriousness that police forces elsewhere have also displayed in investigating murders of rationalists and writers, like Narendra Dabolkar in Maharashtra and MM Kalburgi in Karnataka, who took on the establishment. When such crimes go unpunished, it emboldens antisocial elements to use violence to silence the dissenters. After the attack on Khalid, two men have circulated a video on WhatsApp claiming responsibility for it, a chilling display of lack of fear of law.

Jingoistic television news channels also seem to have played a role in instigating this attack. Ever since Umar Khalid and other JNU students were booked in a sedition case in 2016, pro-establishment news anchors labelled these students “anti-nationals”, “tukde-tukde gang” and “breaking India forces”, despite the police struggling to file a chargesheet for lack of evidence. A few news outlets tried, without any substantiation, to even tar Khalid with the brush of terrorism, after painting him as an Islamist. Videos of these students purportedly shouting seditious slogans were telecast, with gladiatorial TV anchors asking for them to be punished, happily joined in the chorus by spokespersons from the Bharatiya Janata Party, choosing to thus showcase their patriotism on prime time debates. While these videos were later shown to be false, no serious investigation has been carried out to nail those responsible. In March 2017, Khalid wrote an open letter to the media, in which he said that many TV studios were ‘again playing the role of a lynch mob’. The media, especially television channels, need to introspect on their role and stop normalising hate towards dissenting voices in their quest to please the government. That is important but not enough. Unless the police gets its act together and clamps down on hate mongers, such attacks are bound to become the new normal.

The Big Scroll

‘No attack on Umar Khalid’: Journalist’s false testimony goes viral as many try to debunk incident.

Full text: ‘My name is Umar Khalid, certainly, but I am not a terrorist’

‘Many TV studios are again playing the role of a lynch mob’: Umar Khalid’s open letter to the media


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