After the fireworks of sedition-accused Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar's emergence from jail, the release of fellow accused Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya wasn't quite as enthralling. But this is still JNU and a student politician has just walked out of jail, which means an opportunity for a speech at the university's ad block.
"If this government, if the RSS thinks that we can be profiled and put down. If they think that our movement can be crushed, our unity can be destroyed, morale can be attacked, then they have been massively misled. Today, standing among you, I feel stronger than I did a month and a half ago. And this is a massive victory for our movement," said Umar Khalid, surrounded by scores of students on campus after he was released from Tihar Jail earlier in the day.;
Khalid had been arrested on February 23 after being accused of having organised an event on JNU's campus that month where anti-national slogans were allegedly raised. The incident prompted news channels to whip up their audiences into jingoistic frenzies, with reports attempting to paint the movement as connected to Islamic terror and Pakistan.
It eventually emerged that the Delhi Police had overreacted in the case and that much of the evidence was doctored. On Friday, a Delhi court ended up granting Khalid and Bhattacharya bail on the condition that they don't leave the capital. The two promptly made their way back on to campus, which has turned into base camp for hundreds who have organised anti-government rallies both in Delhi and elsewhere over the last few months.
"We have been arrested under Section 124A, sedition. We should tell them, that we are not ashamed or saddened for being arrested on this section. We are proud of the fact, that we were booked under a law in which the great freedom fighters of our country, and after that several people, all the people who questioned those in power, those who fought for the people, whether it was Binayak Sen, whether it was Arundhati Roy, whether it was Professor Sheikh Shaukat. We are proud of being named alongside these people," Khalid said in his speech.
Islam on trial
Although Khalid lacked the rhetorical mastery of his fellow student Kumar, whose return to campus was electrifying, he nevertheless brought up the important question of religion. On his previous return to campus, Khalid announced how he had been made to feel like a Muslim for the first time in his life. In this speech he elaborated further.
"The conversations made it feel as if it wasn't just one individual on trial, but the entire Muslim community... I was preparing my defence, saying I'm not a practising Muslim and so on, but then it struck me. Will this help? What if I was a practising Muslim? What if I came from Azamgarh, I had been educated in a madrasa, I wore a skullcap and I had a beard? Would all of this be justified after that?" he said.
Khalid mentioned that in jail he was called "sahib, miyan, bhai," while Bhattacharya was known as ji. "They kept asking me, from where did this Bhattacharya come from? If I was a traitor to the nation because of my birth, Ban was a triple traitor. He was not only a traitor to his nation, but also to his religion and also to his caste. He was told, you just say that Khalid influenced you."
At the gathering, the youngest of Khalid's sisters, 12-year-old Sarah Fatima, also spoke in solidarity with the students. She had been threatened with rape and acid attacks along with Khalid's other sisters in the wake of the JNU controversy.