Published: 23rd April 2020
This is an attack on us all: Student leaders shocked after Umar Khalid charged under UAPA
Umar Khalid has been accused of instigating the Delhi riots during his speeches at anti-CAA rallies and has been charged along with two other Jamia students
Student activists across the country have criticised the government for using the pandemic as an opportunity to file FIRs and book students under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The latest to fall prey to the Act are former JNU student Umar Khalid, Jamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zagar and this has left the student community in shock.
Umar Khalid has been accused of instigating the Delhi riots during his speeches at anti-CAA rallies. We spoke to a few student leaders to find out how they had reacted to the news and what this could mean for student activism. Apeksha Priyadarshini, a member of BASO in JNU and also Umar's friend says she's deeply shaken by the news like many others. "The biggest issue is that under this law, one can be incarcerated for as long as seven years without the judiciary concluding that they are guilty. And we know for a fact that Umar's case has no legal standing because the police cannot establish any kind of links between Umar and the violence that took place in north East Delhi," she says.
Recalling the days after the riots, Apeksha recalls that while doing their relief work and attending helplines they had found that an overwhelming number of victims were Muslims. "Soon after, activists started getting targeted. The protests were some of the most peaceful I've seen. They can go through every single speech of Umar's and they would not find a single sentence to claim that he had instigated the violence," Apeksha believes.
She adds that by slapping one case on another on different activists the Centre is ensuring that the activists spend all their time protesting each there and fighting for their freedom. "We are all involved in relief work and now that this has happened, we have to sit back and figure this out. All the time we are spending fighting for each other," she adds. The timing of the arrests also shows that the targeting is happening at a time when students can't mobilise a protest, "It is truly painful, but this is an attack on all of us and we shall react to it that way," she says.
Umar has been in the news ever since February 2016 when he was charged for sedition along with Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya. Ever since, he has found the sedition case, his PhD was initially delayed, he was attacked by someone who later got an election ticket and now he has been charged under the UAPA. "In February 2016, the JNU students were protesting in solidarity with Rohith Vemula, they were demanding fellowships, protesting against fund cuts. And those same students were charged with sedition for defending the constitution," says Sai Balaji, former JNUSU President.
"Now, the Centre is not providing PPEs to doctors, ration to migrant workers, the vulnerable and poor, no income for those in need but they are punishing those who who vehemently defend the constitution," he adds. Fahad Ahmed, a former Students' Union leader from TISS says its impossible that the anti-CAA protests could have in any way led to the violence and that not even a single line from Umar's speeches has insinuated that there should be any sort of violence. "if the authorities are able to find even a single line in his speech or any of the other student's speeches to prove it, then action can be taken against them. But there is no way that the protests could have gone on for so long if they weren't peaceful. And at every single protest, students were holding the national flag, showing how proud we are of this nation," he adds.
"India deserves better. We can't be charging students with anti-terror laws like this. They cannot crush all dissenting voices," the student says.
Abhishek Nandan, the President of the Students' Union at the University of Hyderabad questions why political leaders like Kapil Sharma and Anurag Thakur have not even had an FIR filed in their names when there is proof that they had instigated the violence. "So many political leaders have been giving hate speeches but none of them are facing any charges. This shows clearly that students are being targeted," he said.
Gopi Swamy, the General Secretary of the UoH Students' Union reminded us of what Anand Teltumbde said before his arrest - 'Speak before your turn comes'. "We have to resist this. At a time when the world is fighting Corona and sending people out of prisons to contain its spread, in India we are sending people into jails," he points out.