Why are Delhi police calling Umar Khalid’s atheism a ‘pretence’?

In the NE Delhi riot chargesheet police alleged that Khalid’s ‘plans’ were ‘based on concept of Ummah, with total decimation of secular, national identities’

Image Courtesy:indianexpress.com

Each year on March 23, scores of publications, and thousands of citizens quoted the famed ‘Why I am an Atheist’  an essay said to have been authored by the revolutionary Bhagat Singh in 1930 while he was imprisoned in Lahore Central Jail. According to various publications this was Singh’s response to a religious co-prisoners attempt to convince him about God existing.  Bhagat Singh, who was just 23 years old when he was hanged a year later, had written that it was a “matter of debate whether my lack of belief in the existence of an omnipresent, omniscient God is due to my arrogant pride and vanity. It never occurred to me that sometime in the future I would be involved in polemics of this kind.”

In 2020, his atheism would probably have been added in the list of ‘offences’  against him. While there is no comparison between the two men, and cases against them, it may be perhaps for the first time in recent times that a state police has taken cognisance of atheism in an official chargesheet filed against an accused.

According to Indian Express, the Delhi Police in their massive supplementary chargesheet filed in the Northeast Delhi riots case have also alleged that Dr Umar Khalid has carried his “atheism as a pretence” and instead believed that “violent political Islam must be blended with frontal political parties to take on the Indian State”. Khalid has always openly said he is an atheist, perhaps even before he came to be recognised as an youth leader and human rights defender. 

The Delhi Police, however, seem convinced that he is not an atheist at all. The supplementary chargesheet filed against Khalid, who has been called a “veteran of sedition”; JNU student Sharjeel Imam, a “detonator”; and Faizan Khan, accused of supplying of providing and activating a SIM card, which was used by the Jamia Coordination Committee, a group of students and activists who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

According to police, Khalid “begrudgingly accepted the idea of India in 2016”, with a plan to break up India in 2020 where “all relations were based on the concept of Ummah, with total decimation of secular, national identities”, reported the IE.

This chargesheet was filed before the Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat under relevant sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on Sunday, and the three men named have also been accused of rioting, unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy, murder, promoting enmity on grounds of religion, language, caste, etc and other sections of the IPC. The court took cognisance of the chargesheet on Tuesday reported IE. The chargesheet stated that Khalid used his political acumen “knowing full well that Indian Muslims will never subscribe to the perverted definition of Islam”. Police stated that “Bangladeshi and Rohingya immigrants were the easiest to locate and use because of their socio-economic disadvantages and ghettoised living in the national capital” added the IE report.

It stated that Khalid was the “convergence point of the twin lines of Pan-Islamica and Ultra-Left anarchism which had incubated, nurtured and propagated the common conspiracy, all squarely aimed at violent subjugation of the Government” and that he has two “mutually reinforcing lines of thought”. One in which he followed the “template passed on to him in legacy by his father” and the second “being the ultra-left ideological space where he was trying to match up and at times overshadow the likes of Yogendra Yadav”.

According to IE, the chargesheet said Imam’s withdrawal from Shaheen Bagh protest site was under the pretext of a “classical Maoist strategy i.e. keep the movement mass based and derive individualism”. Police alleged that following his arrest, key conspirators started mass mobilisation of the press for “his release and to portray this communal seed as the flower of democracy”.

“It is no wonder then that the dawn of a new year saw Sharjeel Imam donning new clothes and embarking on a journey across many states which saw registration of six FIRs against him, including for Sedition and inciting communal hatred,” it added. 

Police stated in its chargesheet that this established the name of Sharjeel Imam true to what he had earlier boasted to his own brother when he had returned ‘Hum dono hai mastermind’,” adding that Imam’s “religious fanaticism” coupled with his academic legacy and sharp rhetorical skills was just the “perfect combination” that his mentor Khalid was looking to exploit.

The Delhi Police’s supplementary charge sheet against Dr. Umar Khalid in its ongoing investigations into the North East Delhi communal violence of February 2020 is  930-page long and also cited Khalid’s trip to Patna as a part of a ‘conspiracy’. as they state, Khalid left the city during the visit of US President Donald Trump on February 23 for Patna and came back on February 27. 

According to IE the police registered an FIR against Khalid on March 6 based on information provided by an informer to sub-inspector Arvind Kumar of the narcotics unit of the Crime Branch. According to the FIR, Kumar stated the informer told him that the Northeast Delhi riots in February were part of a “premeditated conspiracy” allegedly hatched by Khalid, one Danish, and two others associated with different organisations. That FIR states: “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.” 

The Arvind Kejriwal led Delhi Government and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, had sanctioned the Delhi Police to prosecute  Umar Khalid under the stringent anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Atheism has always riled religious communities and now law keepers the Richard Dawkins Award, given this year to Javed Akhtar, had generated a fair amount of controversy. While the national media, including those who have always demeaned Muslims, largely welcomed the award, Muslims themselves were edgy in their response to this event. Some have largely ignored it, others have called this yet another example of Islamophobia.  The Award is given for promoting atheism and questioning the inherent dogmatism within all religious traditions.  

As reported earlier, some surveys indicate that as many as 20% Indians were confirmed atheists, or were unsure of their religious orientation or didn’t subscribe to any specific belief or faith. The pressure to conform to a faith is especially high for women who have been entrusted to pass on “faith based rituals’ to the next generation under the garb of tradition and cultural continuity. Any rebellion in this regard is seen as un-sanskari and the woman risks getting blamed for all the ills that befall the family. It’s high time the option “None” was available against “Religion” on an Indian census form.


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