Over 200 eminent personalities on Thursday urged the Narendra Modi government to release former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid and all those falsely implicated for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
A statement was released by pioneering linguist Noam Chomsky, leading American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler, scholar Homi K Bhabha, writers Arundhati Roy, Meena Kandasamy, Rajmohan Gandhi, Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie, filmmaker Mira Nair, historian Irfan Habib, journalist P Sainath, and actor Ratna Pathak Shah, among many others. The signatories expressed concern at the arrests of democratic voices in India.
“As an international community of scholars, teachers, students, artists and filmmakers, we have watched with alarm the events unfolding in India,” the statement said. “We stand in solidarity and outrage, with the brave young scholar and activist Umar Khalid.”
Khalid was arrested on September 11 by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A court in Delhi on Thursday sent him to judicial custody till October 22. Khalid has been accused of being one of the main conspirators in the Delhi violence in February, in which at least 53 people were killed and hundreds injured.
The signatories said Khalid has been arrested under fabricated charges because he joined the movement for equal citizenship. “This process of criminalising 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 said.
The international community of scholars, teachers, students, artists and filmmakers said the former JNU student has been upholding the values of India’s Constitution, adding that he is a “powerful young voice of truth”. They said Khalid has spoken across India and articulated the dreams of all young Indians. “He staked his claim to the full measure of citizenship, he spoke for all marginal peoples, and above all Umar spoke for peace,” it added.
The statement said Khalid is included in a long list of those targeted, implicated and unjustly incarcerated under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the ruling government.
“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.”— The statement.
The signatories listed the names of former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, student activist Gulfisha Fatima, Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam, United Against Hate co-founder Khalid Saifi, Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Asif Iqbal Tanha, along with Pinjra Tod members Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita as those targeted by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the February violence case.
“The two non-Muslims, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, are fiery young feminists, who fought for the rights of women students in India’s male-dominated campuses; against a masculinist state that cannot abide their fearlessness.”
They also pointed out that Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar, who was arrested in April when she was three months pregnant, was “heartlessly” lodged in a crowded prison in the middle of the pandemic. Zargar was granted bail in June only “because of enormous public outcry”, the statement said.
The statement said 19 of the 21 people falsely accused under terror laws are Muslims. “If we allow their identity to become their crime, India shall stand shamed in the global community of secular nations,” it added. “These people are not terrorists, and the police investigation into the Delhi riots is not an investigation. It is a pre-meditated witch-hunt.”
BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, who were at the centre of a raging controversy about their own role in instigating the riots, have still not been charged, the signatories said.
“The role of BJP leader Kapil Mishra, has shockingly not attracted the merest police scrutiny; even though he stood in North East Delhi on February 23 along with the deputy commissioner of police, and threatened that his supporters would ‘take matters into their own hands’ if the CAA protesters were not removed... This speech is widely alleged to have triggered the violence between 23 and 26 February 2020. Instead, young protestors have been targeted and thrown into jail.”
They also urged the government to ensure that the Delhi Police investigates the violence with impartiality, under the oath they took as public servants bound by the Constitution of India. “The youth of any nation are its future,” the statement said. “It is their voices we amplify today. As global citizens, we pledge our solidarity with each of those falsely charged. Seeking justice for them, is doing justice to our collective, democratic futures.”
In multiple chargesheets connected with the February riots, the Delhi Police have claimed that the violence was part of a well-planned conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and was hatched by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Act. The act, which was passed in December, introduced a religious test for Indian citizenship that critics said was discriminatory towards Muslims. The protests against the CAA started in Delhi in mid-December and quickly spread across the country.