“Theatre of the Absurd!” well known civil rights activist, Dr Umar Khalid, had tweeted soon after the calendar marked the date as September 13. Twenty-four hours later, in the early hours September 14, Khalid was arrested by Delhi police. An arrest at nearly midnight, when only journalists, and activists were possibly up, some in different time zones. By 1 A.M, the news was confirmed, and soon went viral on social media.
According to news reports, Delhi Police had once again called Umar Khalid for questioning on Sunday, and subsequently arrested him late at night. The Indian Express broke, and confirmed the news adding that the Police are likely to charge Umar Khalid under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). He will be produced in court on Monday.
The IE reported that Khalid was summoned to the Special Cell office in Lodhi Colony again on Saturday, then asked to join the investigation on Sunday. On Sunday, Khalid “arrived around 1 P.M and was questioned during the day before being arrested in the evening,” the IE quotes a police source. Police stated that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against Khalid on March 6. This FIR was “based on information provided by an informer to Sub-Inspector Arvind Kumar of the narcotics unit of the Crime Branch”, and stated that an ‘“informer” told him that the Northeast Delhi riots of February, were due to a “premeditated conspiracy”. It alleged that this “conspiracy” was hatched by Khalid, one Danish, and two others. The investigation was later taken over by the Special Investigation Team of the Special Cell, which is looking into the alleged conspiracy.
That FIR as quoted by IE stated: “Khalid allegedly gave provocative speeches at two different places and appealed to the citizens to come out on the streets and block the roads during the visit of US President Donald Trump to spread propaganda at the international level about how minorities in India are being persecuted.” It added allegations that “as part of the conspiracy, firearms, petrol bombs, acid bottles, and stones were stored at homes in Kardampuri, Jafrabad, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Shiv Vihar and nearby areas.” It stated that “Danish, was given the responsibility to gather people from different places to take part in the violence… Women and children were made to block the roads under the Jafrabad Metro Station on February 23 to create tension amidst the neighbourhood people. The same day, schools of minority children (were) vacated under their premeditated conspiracy,” the IE reports from the FIR.
Numerous activists, and organisations have of late been vocal in pointing out that the investigation into the riot cases, themselves seems to be a conspiracy to frame activists, and students. Scores of activists, who were vocal and visible in their support to the peaceful anti-CAA-NRC-NPR sit in protest at Shaheen Bagh, have already been called in for hours of questioning by the special cell. Umar Khalid, in fact, has been called multiple times in recent months.
Khalid’s tweet in the early hours of Sunday was in fact a reaction to the names of eminent Delhi citizen activists, including economists, professors, writers, filmmakers, who were known to have been put under the scanner by the Delhi Police, investigating cases related to North East Delhi riots of february 2020.
Theatre of the Absurd! https://t.co/j4UQNhfmRP
— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) September 12, 2020
Khalid was reacting to a report in The Wire, which detailed how in its continuing effort to “buttress its claim about the Delhi riots being a “deep-rooted conspiracy” by anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters,” The Delhi police named eminent citizens including Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, renowned economist Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy, and others, alleged that they had “encouraged the protesters as part of a ‘plan’”
These people were named in the the supplementary chargesheet filed by the Delhi police for FIR 50/20 in connection with the alleged role of three students, two from the women’s collective Pinjra Tod – Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal of Jawaharlal Nehru University – and Gulfisha Fathima of Jamia Millia Islamia – in the Jafrabad violence, reported The Wire. Kalita and Narwal, were arrested in the last week of May, and Fathima in late July, they are now facing charges under various sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
According to The Wire’s report the chargesheet annexed two entirely identical ‘disclosure statements’, in which the Delhi police claimed that Kalita and Narwal “admitted” to their complicity in the Delhi riots but also named Ghosh, Apoorvanand and Roy as their “mentors to carry on the anti-CAA protests, even if it leads to violence at some stage.” The report added that these “disclosure statements” had identical language, right down to misspellings like ‘massage’ for ‘message’. According to the statement Kalita and Narwal said they organised the Daryaganj protest in December and the Jafrabad chakka jam (road block) against the CAA on February 22, 2020 at the “behest of Ghosh, Apoorvanand and Roy.” Now Umar Khalid, too, has been formally arrested and may be charged under the same law.
On September 1, Khalid had written to S.N. Shrivastava, Delhi’s police commissioner, stating that he had just learned about an acquaintance having been coerced into making a false statement by investigators supposedly probing the Delhi riots. The identity has been withheld to protect the individual. He had alerted the commissioner about what he termed were “disturbing acts of fabrication and attempts at false implication by the officers of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.” Umar Khalid’s letter to the Commissioner of Police, Delhi can be read here.
According to the IE, in a chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police Crime Branch against suspended AAP councillor Tahir Hussain, the investigating officer alleged that “on January 8, more than a month before the riots, Hussain met with Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi of ‘United Against Hate’ at the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protest, and Umar asked him “to be prepared for something big/riots at the time of Trump’s visit” and that “he and other PFI members will help him (Hussain) financially”.”
Umar Khalid, had addressed a press conference on September 4, just after he had been called for questioning twice in the past two months. The process to implicate him began in March, Khalid said the process began in March when a video clip of a few seconds from a long speech he had made on civil rights was shared out of context, by the right wing IT cells. The clip was shared by the RW on March 3 and an FIR was lodged against Khalid on March 6, filled by a ‘secret informer’. “There is a chronology to this investigation”, Khalid had said and asked the Delhi Police how they missed the rally by Kapil Mishra on December 20, 2019, even though section 144 was in place and gatherings banned in Delhi. “Why is the Delhi Police silent?” he had asked, adding that there was an attempt to rewrite history of the past six months, and to “give it an official stamp,” he had said at that press conference . The full report can be read here
As the news spread, activists have begun to speak out against the Delhi police action against Umar Khamid. Writer, and activist Meena Kandasamy, said, “The theatre of Sanghi fascism grows more and more ruthless, swallowing any dissenting voice into its prison system, punishing them for speaking out.” She demanded “his immediate release.”
This was his tweet yesterday. The theatre of Sanghi fascism grows more and more ruthless, swallowing any dissenting voice into its prison system, punishing them for speaking out. News just coming in that @UmarKhalidJNU has been arrested. Demand his immediate release, drop charges https://t.co/aKTzRGjxSz
— meena kandasamy || இளவேனில் (@meenakandasamy) September 13, 2020
Soon #StandWithUmarKhalid and scores tweets and messages began circulating in the early hours of Monday.
Delhi Police called Umar Khalid for questioning, they were interrogating him since morning, now they arrested him.
This fascist govt is going after everyone who opposed discriminatory CAA law.
Shame on this govt and system. #UmarKhalid
— Md Asif Khan (@imMAK02) September 13, 2020
In another act of political vengeance against those who actively spoke truth to power, Delhi police has arrested Umar Khalid. World is watching as the BJP unleashes worst attacks on Muslims.
— Hammad (@HammadMHU) September 13, 2020
Earlier in the day, much before the news of Khalid’s arrest became public, the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had issued a statement to protest the “criminalising of peaceful protests in defence of Indian Constitution.” The statement came soon after the party’s Gen Secy was also named by the Delhi Police along with the other eminent citizens.
This is the full text of the statement that was released on Sunday:
“The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is shocked by the brazenness with which the Delhi Police, acting under Home Minister Amit Shah, has tried to implicate prominent political leadership, academics, cultural personalities and activists in connection with the horrific communal violence in North East Delhi in February. No condemnation is strong enough for this act of crude partisanship and vengeance.
In scripting its own narrative of the organised communal violence, it is amply clear that BJP-RSS has gone about to portray Delhi riots being a “deep-rooted conspiracy” by anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters. In the latest sequel, the Delhi police have dragged in Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, renowned economist Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy, among other prominent personalities, as persons who had, encouraged the protesters as part of a ‘plan’.
The names of these eminent personalities have emerged in the supplementary charge sheet filed by the Delhi police for FIR 50/20 in connection with the alleged role they played in motivating anti-CAA-NRC protesters. This is in line with the growing pattern of the most blatant abuse of the Police and other central agencies like CBI, NIA, ED to frame prominent opponents and demonise them. The pattern includes slapping of provisions of draconian NSA, UAPA and Sedition Act to harass and incarcerate those who vigorously oppose such blatant misuse of powers by the government contrary to that as ordained by the Constitution. The arbitrary conduct of the NIA in the Bhima-Koregaon case and expanding its ambit is telling commentary of this course. Similarly, the dropping of the provisions of NSA and granting of bail to Dr Kafeel Khan by Allahabad High Court has graphically underlined this. Overall, this outlines a severe onslaught on democracy and the Constitution.
The CPI(M) condemns this obnoxious action by the Delhi Police to further the narrative of its political masters and urges the government to desist from such acts of criminalising peaceful political protests. The CPI(M) also strongly demands unconditional release of political prisoners who are incarcerated in cases under trumped up charges. The Polit Bureau urges its units all over the country and appeals to all the parties, organisations and individuals who are committed to democracy and values of the Constitution, to protest this dastardly attack on democracy.