Two years and eight months ago, a former research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was arrested by the Delhi Police for being one of the “key conspirators” in the northeast Delhi riots that caused waves of bloodshed and devastation. He was charged under the draconian UAPA over his alleged role in the ‘Delhi pogrom’. Umar Khalid has been languishing in jail for 1,000 days now.
Despite numerous loopholes time and again in the cases pressed against him and the investigation by Delhi Police, the tiny beam of hope for Umar Khalid to be a free man again continues to fade. But Umar Khalid had been in the news long before that. Jovial but headstrong, Khalid believed in democratic, Gandhian, and Ambedkarite ideologies. He actively participated in political discussions and described himself as a hardcore communist.
In fact, according to his father, "his ideology has become his worst enemy”. As justice still awaits for Umar Khalid, Outlook revisits the timeline of events that led to his arrest and its aftermath.
JNU Sedition Controversy: How It All Started
On 9 February 2016, students of JNU in Delhi held a solidarity meeting on campus over the capital punishment meted out to 2001 Indian Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Bhat. The meeting drew nationwide outrage and criticism with some alleging that “anti-national slogans” were raised by those who participated in the event.
Four days later, Kanhaiya Kumar – then JNU Student Union president – was arrested on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. Meanwhile, five other students including Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Shehla Rashid, Anant Prakash, Rama Naga, and Ashutosh Kumar went into hiding. They were nowhere to be found.
JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid and All India Students Association (AISA) members Rama Naga and Anirban Bhattacharya, who were among the organisers of the event, also made headlines but that was the beginning of Umar Khalid’s infamy.
From Sedition Row To Arrest
Ten days after Kanhaiya’s arrest, Umar and Anirban appeared on campus and surrendered before Delhi Police, prior to which they moved the Delhi High Court seeking police protection. On 26 August 2016, Umar and Anirban were granted bail by a Delhi court.
Following the sedition charges that were widely criticised as suppression of political dissent, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were rusticated for one semester. JNU even refused Umar Khalid from submitting his PhD thesis. Khalid moved to Delhi HC and obtained an order allowing him to submit his thesis. JNU accepted the PhD thesis submission in 2018.
However, the clamour over anti-national slogans did not die down yet. In fact, a section of media and posters seen outside JNU started describing Khalid as a “Kashmiri traitor”. Umar Khalid clarified on television that he is not a Kashmiri but sympathises with the region’s issues.
Khalid also escaped an attack in 2018 when an unidentified man tried to shoot at him at a tea stall in the heart of Delhi.
On 14 January 2019, Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against Kanhaiya, Umar, and Anirban over sedition. On 28 February 2020, the Delhi government gave its nod for a trial.
Jailed Without Bail
On 14 September 2020, Umar Khalid was arrested by a special cell of the Delhi Police for making “provocative statements” when then-US President Donald Trump was on a visit to India. He was also accused as one of the “masterminds” in the violence that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds more.
In its charge sheets related to the Delhi riots, the police said Khalid met suspended and jailed Aam Aadmi Party's councillor Tahir Hussain and activist Khalid Saifi on 8 January in Shaheen Bagh, where a sit-in protest was underway against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), to allegedly conspire for the riots. The police then linked Khalid's older speeches to the riots and started looking into a “larger conspiracy case” in addition to riot charges. In January 2021, a Delhi court agreed with the Delhi Police chargesheet.
The former JNU scholar filed several bail pleas on grounds that he neither had any “criminal role” in the violence in the violence nor any “conspiratorial connect” with any other accused in the case. But his bail was denied over and over again.
On 3 December 2022, a court in the national capital discharged the former JNU scholar as well as United Against Hate founder Khalid Saifi in connection to the ‘stone pelting’ case related to the February 2020 riots. Additional Sessions Judge Pulastya Pramachala passed the order while directing that charges be framed against AAP leader Tahir Hussain and 10 others in the case related to alleged rioting, vandalism and arson at a parking lot in northeast Delhi.
He got a chance to leave the jail premises briefly, along with a gag order, later that month to attend his sister’s wedding. However, Khalid and Saifi will remain in jail in connection with the larger conspiracy case behind the riots.
It is nearly three years since Umar Khalid has been in jail. The only speck of justice he has received so far is an intervention of a court in January 2023 about the abrupt termination of the calling facility by the prison authority.