Over 200 eminent personalities have issued a joint statement demanding that the Centre release former JNU student leader Umar Khalid and “all those falsely implicated” for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The signatories include Noam Chomsky, Mira Nair, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, P Sainath, Ramchandra Guha, Meena Kandaswamy, Romila Thapar among others.
“We call on the Government of India to free Umar Khalid and all those falsely implicated and unjustly incarcerated for protesting against the CAA-NRC that denies equal citizenship rights and to 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,” the statement read.
It further said that the signatories stand in “solidarity and outrage” with Khalid.
“What was Umar Khalid’s crime? That he used the passion of his commitment to his country, marshalled his education and his voice to join the movement for equal citizenship, against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA),” the statement said, according to The Wire.
Khalid was arrested on 13 September under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in a case related to the Delhi riots in February this year. A Delhi court has sent him to judicial custody till 22 October.
This process of criminalising all dissent, the signatories said, 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”.
The statement also mentioned BJP leader Kapil Mishra and pointed out that his role has “shockingly not attracted the merest police scrutiny; even though he stood in North East Delhi on 23 February 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,” Scroll reported.
A committee constituted by the Delhi Minorities Commission had noted that violence erupted in parts of North East Delhi soon after Mishra’s speech on 23 February calling for forcefully removing anti-CAA protesters at Jaffrabad.
The statement also listed names of former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar and Pinjra Tod members Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita.
Kalita and Narwal are “fiery young feminists who fought for the rights of women students in India’s male-dominated campuses, against a masculinist state that cannot abide their fearlessness,” The Wire quoted from the statement.
It went on to say that 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.”
Before his arrest, Khalid, in a video message, had said that the police was “not catching people who openly instigated the riots, in front of the police, in front of TV cameras, we’ve all seen this.”
“Forget an FIR, they haven’t even been called for questioning,” he said.
Instead, Khalid said false cases were being registered against people who protested the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
(With PTI inputs)