Umar Khalid | Photo: PTI
New Delhi: Scores of students, civil rights activists and media personalities gathered here on Friday to express solidarity with former JNU student leader Umar Khalid after he completed 1,000 days of incarceration in the 2020 northeast Delhi riots case.
The activists gathered at the Press Club to talk about 'Democracy, Dissent and Censorship', saying Khalid's 1,000 days of imprisonment equals to "1,000 days of resistance".
The event was earlier scheduled to be held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, but the activists claimed police forced the venue managers to cancel their booking. Khalid was arrested by Delhi Police in 2020 and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Police claimed he was the mastermind of the northeast Delhi riots which had left 53 people dead and over 700 injured.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said, “This is 1,000 days of imprisonment as well as 1,000 days of resistance. Umar Khalid will be very happy to know that in this scorching heat, hundreds of people gathered to defend democracy.
"This solidarity is not just for Umar, but for every political prisoner. This is a fight of memory. A dominant memory is mainstream today, while the memories of marginalised communities are ignored,” he said.
Senior journalist Ravish Kumar said the road to the door of justice has been stretched too far for those like Khalid.
“Remember 1,000 days that have passed. Remember that these are not just 1,000 days since Khalid's incarceration, but also 1,000 days of shame for the Indian judicial system," he said.
Present at the event was also Khalid's father S Q R Ilyas who said the confines of the prison walls has not dampened the spirit of his son.
“Has 1,000 days of jail dented Umar's confidence, has it dampened the spirits of his friends? Absolutely not. When I see all those who have been jailed during their court hearings, I see confidence in their faces, they know that they are in jail for a cause," he said.
He said his son is fighting for the country and democracy.
Ilyas demanded the release of all 'political prisoners', including his son, Sharjeel Imam, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman and others.
On the row over the event's venue, Supreme Court advocate Shahrukh Alam said the venue was cancelled following an intervention by the Delhi Police.
"We were told Delhi Police gave a notice to the management of the earlier venue that the booking should be cancelled. They did not quote any sections under which the order was made," she claimed.
Khalid, who completed his PhD on tribals in Jharkhand from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was arrested on September 14, 2020.
Ilyas said Khalid was not in Delhi when the riots took place, but the police refused to accept it as "evidence of his innocence".
Meanwhile, RJD MP Manoj Jha also slammed the BJP-led Centre over the sedition law.
"Now the Law Commission is recommending that more stringent punishment should be given under the sedition law... That would mean those who cannot be targeted by agencies like the CBI and ED will be booked under the UAPA to crush dissent," he said.
Opposition parties, including the RJD, have been alleging that the Union government is misusing probe agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against their leaders.
Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, JNU said the continued detention of Khalid is not just a personal tragedy, but "social waste" of a talent.
"Even in the colonial days, Gandhi was never in jail for more than two years. Nehru was longest in jail at one go for 1,041 days... Umar has now been in jail for 1,000 days," he said.
"This is against democracy, anyone can be put in jail on flimsiest of pretexts," he added.
Journalist Ravish Kumar, author Arundhati Roy, activist Shabnam Hashmi, former Planning Commission member Sayeda Hamid were among those present at the solidarity event.
Khalid had recently got eight days bail to attend his sister's wedding.