More than 200 national and international scholars, academicians and artists Thursday released a statement in support of former JNU student Umar Khalid, who is under arrest, for his alleged role in the February Delhi riots. The signatories have called the investigation a “pre-meditated witch-hunt” and said Khalid was falsely implicated by the Delhi Police under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act).
They have demanded that the government “free” Khalid and “all those falsely implicated and unjustly incarcerated for protesting against the CAA-NRC”, and “ensure that the Delhi Police investigates the Delhi riots with impartiality under the oath they took as public servants bound by the Constitution of India”.
Some prominent persons among the 208 signatories are Linguist Noam Chomsky, authors Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha and Rajmohan Gandhi, filmmakers Mira Nair and Anand Patwardhan, historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, and activists Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy.
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“We stand in solidarity and outrage, with the brave young scholar and activist Umar Khalid… He is charged with sedition, conspiracy to murder, and under sections of India’s stringent antiterror law, the UAPA. This process of criminalizing 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 wrote.
The signatories said the anti-CAA movement was “the largest most peaceful democratic rights movement in independent India” that “followed proudly in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and embodied the spirit of the Indian Constitution drafted under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar”.
“Umar Khalid became a powerful young voice of truth in this movement, speaking at close to 100 meetings across India, in small towns and big cities, upholding the values of India’s constitution; articulating the dreams of all young Indians – of freedom from hunger, deprivation, discrimination and fear. He staked his claim to the full measure of citizenship, he spoke for all marginal peoples, and above all Umar spoke for peace,” they said.
“He has been projected as a jihadi, and a figure of hate by sections of a compromised Indian media, not only because he speaks persuasively against government policies that he believes are unjust, but also because he is Muslim,” they added.
The statement mentions all those arrested under UAPA including Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. “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,” they said.
“Currently, 19 of the 21 people falsely accused under terror laws, are Muslim. If we allow their identity to become their crime, India shall stand shamed in the global community of secular nations. These people are not terrorists, and the police investigation into the Delhi riots is not an investigation. It is a pre-meditated witch-hunt,” they said.
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The statement also mentions that several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders gave “hate speeches inciting their supporters to ‘shoot the traitors’” but “no cases have been registered against them”.
“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, 2020, 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 added.
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