‘Stop this media trial’

Print edition : April 01, 2016

Umar Khalid's father. Photo: Pmanvender vashist/PTI

Umar Khalid burst on the national media after the February 9 event at Jawahralal Nehru University (JNU) as a dreaded anti-national who posed a big threat to the nation’s unity and sovereignty, as shown in an allegedly doctored video. With a huge section of the media baying for his blood, the JNU student accused of masterminding the event on the campus commemorating the hanging of Afzal Guru initially went underground after sedition charges were slapped on him but surrendered before the Delhi Police on February 23 and was arrested the following day after interrogation.

His middle-class, educated, family, living in the heart of Delhi, was subjected to the worst possible hate campaign. His father, Dr S.Q.R. Ilyas, was dubbed the chieftain of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and issued threats over the phone; his sisters suffered a vulgar onslaught on social media; and posters seeking his head were plastered all over his neighbourhood in the posh south Delhi area.

Ilyas, a respected cleric and a working committee member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), has been the national convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. He is the national president of the Welfare Party of India and is a respected journalist who owns-publishes-edits an Urdu magazine, Afkar-e-Milli. Ilyas said his son could be anything but an anti-national. “He would fight with us for not engaging enough with the aam admi. He had so much concern for humanity at large, felt pained about people’s sufferings. And now they are calling him anti-national! I think he has become a victim of the internal student politics in JNU. I am scared for his safety,” he said in exclusive interviews to Frontline before and after the arrest of Umar.

He said the conditional bail granted to JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar would lead to other arrested students also being released. “The truth will eventually come out. But I am pained by the way Umar, who was only one of the 10 organisers of the event, has been painted as the mastermind of an anti-India campaign and called a traitor. I think Umar is paying the price for being a Muslim. But I have faith in the judiciary.”


Dr Ilyas, how do you explain the turn of events since the programme to observe the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging was organised in JNU? With Umar now in jail, have you managed to figure out what exactly happened?

I am trying to figure it out because this was not the first time that the commemoration event had been organised in JNU. Basically, it was a cultural event titled “A country without a post office”, and it went off smoothly during the day. In the night, however, apparently some outsiders, who were Kashmiris and who are seen in the videos with their faces covered, joined and chanted those slogans. The police were present when the event was being held. They took no action at that time because there was obviously nothing serious then. For two days after the event nothing happened, and then Zee TV and Times Now started showing some videos, saying anti-national activities were taking place on the JNU campus. This caught on and spread like wildfire.

Did you ask Umar whether he raised those slogans?

Yes, I asked him and he said he did not. But I felt uneasy about the way things were shaping up, especially the manner in which he was being portrayed as the “mastermind” of the anti-India campaign, and asked him to be careful. He was invited for a debate on Times Now. I told him not to go but he went, and there he was completely shouted down by the anchor. From then on, things just went out of control. He did not come home that night, and I have not met him since then. I feared for his safety. I was dumbfounded by media reports that linked him to the Jaish e-Muhammad and said that he had been to Pakistan and had a mission to foment trouble in 10 cities across India. Let me put it on record that even my youngest daughter, who is only 12, has a passport but Umar never got a passport because he said he never wanted to go out of India. He wanted to be here and work among the poor. He had differences with us, but I cannot imagine him being an anti-national.

What sort of a childhood did he have? Is it possible that he has been brainwashed to follow a particular ideology and you may not be aware of it?

We are a typical middle-class Muslim family which believes in Islam. Until his graduation, Umar too was a practising Muslim, offering namaz and keeping rozas. He did his schooling in Rai School [now called Banyan Tree school] in Delhi and his graduation from Kirori Mal College. But ever since he joined the JNU eight years ago, he came under the influence of Left ideology and became an atheist. We had serious differences over this, but our family gives the children the freedom of choice. We never forced our opinion on him. He wanted to be a cricketer, but that could not materialise. He was a meritorious student and could have taken up any good profession, but he wanted to work for the poor and the marginalised. His PhD topic was on the tribal people of Jharkhand. Two of my daughters graduated from St. Stephens College. The eldest is now doing her PhD in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the third one is a graduate student in fine arts, the fourth daughter is studying in Convent of Jesus and Mary. My youngest daughter is studying in Carmel Convent. Except for Left ideology, I do not think Umar is under the influence of any other ideology. He was an active member of the Democratic Students Union [DSU], which is an ultra-left students’ body in JNU. He quit it recently.

Did he tell you why?

I never asked. But apparently, it was owing to some serious differences. He was disturbed for several days after he quit the DSU. He also had vehement differences with the students affiliated to the Akhil Bhratiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and this incident, I think, was used to frame him. I think he became a victim of internal student politics.

But there are videos showing him chanting anti-India slogans...

I don’t think he would have done that. Besides, it has now been established that some of those videos are doctored. Even if he did, let them put him through the legal process and then take whatever action is necessary, as per law. What I find disturbing is that even before the university’s inquiry was completed, even before he faced the due process of law, he has been guillotined on the basis of a media trial. Another thing I find disturbing is that he was only one of the 10 students who had organised the event. His name was seventh in the list of organisers, but he is being singled out and projected as the “mastermind” and being profiled in the most damaging terms. I fear that this is being done to suit the polarising politics of the present government. He is paying the price for being a Muslim.

Is it possible that your SIMI background could have been the reason for this sort of profiling of Umar?

Isn’t that ridiculous? I was associated with SIMI until 1985, when it was not a banned organisation. Umar was not even born then.

Have you met Umar since his arrest? What would be your advice to him?

No, I have not met him. But through you, I would like to tell him to have faith in the process of the law because if he has done no wrong, then sooner or later the truth will come out and he will be cleared [of the charges]. The conditional bail given to Kanhaiya Kumar has reinforced my faith in the judiciary, and I am sure the truth about Umar, too, will come out. We have full faith in the judiciary and we are sure we will get justice. But I would like to appeal to the government to please stop this media trial, stop this religious profiling of Umar. If Umar is guilty, put him behind bars by all means, but please stop this lynch mob. Ensure his safety and let the judicial machinery do its work. We are really scared about his safety.

Purnima S. Tripathi

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