“How is it spelt? Could you spell it for me?” said Nargis Saifi, at the beginning of an awkward conversation about whether her husband Khalid Saifi believed in “Ghazwa-e-Hind,” a contested phrase used by a certain section of people to refer to a so-called ‘holy raid’ for Muslim domination over the Indian subcontinent.
Nargis isn’t the only one wondering suddenly what the word means.
“Umar is a non-believer. Everyone knows that,” said Sabiha Khanum, Umar Khalid’s mother, with an incredulous laugh. “How can he relate to something that is Islamic? This is not justified.”
A disclosure statement attributed to Saifi during the Delhi Police’s investigation of the Delhi riots says that he, a businessman, and Khalid, a political activist, are proponents of the controversial idea.
Disclosure statements are taken soon after an arrest, and do not have evidentiary value in a trial unless they lead to the discovery of new evidence. Defence lawyers in Delhi riot cases have contested the veracity of the statements attributed to their clients.
Rashid Kidwai, a political analyst and a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, wrote in 2019 that while there is little clarity on what ‘Ghazwa e Hind’ means, it has been invoked by a wide range of characters from Pakistani militants to Pakistan actor Veena Malik and, closer home, by news channel Times Now.
“Umar Khalid is ultra-Left. There is an open negation of religion and faith. Prima facie, it looks far-fetched,” Kidwai told HuffPost India over the phone. “The term is used rather recklessly, and as a convenient ploy to present certain people in a certain light.”
For the stunned family members of Khalid and Saifi, even talking about Ghazwa-e-Hind seems “beyond ridiculous”.
And yet, they are worried. At a time when the Indian internet is rife with disinformation and anti-Muslim sentiments, it may only take one irresponsible media report to snowball into countless WhatsApp forwards that firmly link these men with Ghazwa-e-Hind in the minds of millions of people.
In fact, Banojyotsna Lahiri who, like her partner, Umar Khalid, has a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), thinks that these statements read like they have been manufactured for the consumption of the Hindu right and those who would choose to believe and share the disinformation.
“It is ridiculous to us but it does have a currency and does have an audience,” said Lahiri. “It seems like a chargesheet has been written to cater to a right-wing audience. It doesn’t cater to any logical person or the courts.”
The chargesheet that Lahiri is referring to is for First Information Report 59 — FIR 59 — that says the Delhi riots were planned and orchestrated by the people who drove the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December, with Khalid as the mastermind. Students and activists in their twenties and thirties have been booked for terrorism and murder, incarcerated in crowded jails over the summer, and denied bail amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the 21 arrested in FIR 59, so far, are Muslim. Most of the 53 people killed in the February riots in Delhi were Muslim.
The Delhi Police maintains it is carrying out an unbiased investigation into the Delhi riots, and that FIR 59 is just one of 751 filed in the case. But FIR 51 is crucial because it details who the police believe is responsible for the riots.
However, a careful reading of the chargesheet shows that it comes across like an investigation to prove that the anti-CAA protesters planned and carried out chakka jams, roadblocks. The statements attributed to accused and unnamed witnesses in the chargesheet are thick with alleged remarks made by Muslims against Hindus, suggesting that the Delhi Police see the anti-CAA protests as a Hindu-Muslim issue, an ultimatum to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Narendra Modi government, and not a protest against a controversial law that its critics said made religion the basis for granting Indian citizenship.
The chargesheet has a copy of a speech Khalid made at Amravati in Maharashtra on 17 September, which the Delhi Police says was a call for a violent storming of the streets and overthrow of the Modi government.
Khalid’s speech, which can be heard here, actually begins with a call to non-violence, while extolling the virtue of civil disobedience.
‘This is absolutely bizarre’
“I’m involved with several Muslim organisations that promote Ghazwa-e-Hind in the country and I keep meeting with them,” says a disclosure statement attributed to Saifi, who was also leading a campaign called United Against Hate. “Umar Khalid believes that we should oppose every policy of this government, openly oppose Modi and Amit Shah, and go forward with our Ghazwa-e-Hind mission.”
Saifi’s lawyer, Harsh Bora, has previously told HuffPost India that the disclosure statements attributed to his client are false and he was beaten while in police custody at the Jagatpuri police station.
“They have nothing else so they are cooking up a story,” said Nargis, Saifi’s wife. “If you are Muslim today, they can say anything about us and people will believe them.”
Nargis said that if they wanted to live in an Islamic country, they would have left India, where her husband meets and greets people on Diwali and Eid, and moved to Saudi Arabia.
“We can’t think about leaving the life we have made here, in the country of our ancestors,” she said. “I don’t know why they are thinking of this Ghazwa philosophy because we are not. They should explain it to us.”
A second disclosure statement attributed to Saifi has Umar Khalid extolling Ghazwa-e-Hind, echoing the same words from a statement attributed to Meeran Haider, a PhD student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, a third accused in the case. Both disclosure statements say, “If we don’t come together to oppose the government then this government will not let Muslims live. Khalid used to say that we should oppose every policy of the government and enforce Ghazwa-e-hind.”
Meeran Haider’s lawyer declined to comment.
“This is absolutely bizarre. From Umar’s PhD to his published writings and what he has spoken in public from 2016 are available online. Anyone who has read him or listened to him will know how bizarre this claim is,” said Lahiri, Kahlid’s partner. “He is a Marxist scholar and a democratic activist. We would not have been together too, if he was actually some proponent of Ghazwa-e-Hind.”
Over the past week, Lahiri has been telling reporters that if the Delhi Police added any “disclosure statements” from Khalid to the chargesheet, he has not signed any statements.
Two other accused in FIR 59, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, graduate students at JNU, reportedly did not sign their disclosure statements that read almost the same and named other critics of the Modi governments, at least one of whom, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, was called for questioning. Legally, as per Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a signature is not required for disclosure statements.
Lawyers for the accused say the Delhi Police’s conspiracy case against their clients is built on disclosure statements that have been coerced and manufactured. Several of these statements have similar sentences and phrases, some down to the same words.
“He is a Marxist scholar and a democratic activist. We would not have been together too, if he was actually some proponent of Ghazwa-e-Hind.”
Sarwer Jahan, the sister of fourth accused Ishrat Jahan—a former Congress municipal councillor and lawyer—told HuffPost India that when she first read about Ghazwa-e-hind in the chargesheet, she had to make a few calls to understand what it meant.
A statement attributed to Ishrat Jahan says, “I believe my religion to be supreme, and I’m involved in various religion based political and social activities, and involved with several organisations that are working on Ghazwa-e-Hind in the country.”
Pradeep Teotia, Jahan’s lawyer, has previously told HuffPost India that the disclosure statements attributed to his client are false.
Sarwer, who is also a lawyer, said that her sister was a practising lawyer who had joined India’s oldest national political party and was elected a municipal councillor from Delhi in 2012.
“This is total nonsense,” said Sarwer. “Look at the kind of life she has led, the education she has had, and her personal and political social circle. If you ask her when she comes out, I bet she would not even have heard of it.”