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'We think about him and it moistens our eyes'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
December 05, 2022 14:24 IST
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'The fact that all the charges against my son are baseless and concocted, in itself, gives me all the hope.'

IMAGE: Dr Umar Khalid, the political and social activist. Photograph: ANI Photo

With Dr Umar Khalid being discharged by Delhi's Karkardooma court on Friday, December 2, 2022, in a case related to the Delhi riots of 2020 and his bail plea pending before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat to attend his sister Zainab Fatima's wedding on December 28, his mother Zainab Khanum tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com that the family is going through a mixed feeling of stress and happiness.

"It's a mixed feeling; we are all so stressed, but our happiness will be complete only if Umar returns home," says Dr Umar's mother.

"Har waqt, har lamha, uski kami mahsoos hoti hai (Obviously, at every moment, on every occasion, we miss his presence at home)," she says wistfully as Dr Umar completes more than two years in jail.

"Interim bail is what we expect based on the law of the land. He is the only brother to his sisters," she informs us.

Ask about the bond the siblings share and she says, "Obviously, Umar is very much excited about his sister's wedding. His sister is also saying she will not get married in her brother's absence. It's a mixed feeling for Zainab Fatima -- and for each and every member of our family -- that she is getting married and her Umar bhai is in jail."

"It will be a very happy moment for the entire family if Umar were to get bail. Zainab too would be very happy. We are doing our best that we can do for Zainab's marriage in Umar's absence, but ek bhai ka hona bohot zaroori hota hai (a brother's presence at his sister's wedding is needed very much)," says the activist's mother.

" My other two daughters are also coming for Zainab's wedding from the UK and US. It will be a momentous occasion for all in the family, but we are all yearning for Umar's bail."

 

The Delhi police arrested Dr Umar Khalid, an activist and former member of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his supposed role in the Delhi riots on September 13, 2020; he has been in jail since.

The Delhi high court had in October 2022 refused to grant Dr Umar bail citing he was in constant touch with other co-accused after it found allegations against him to be prima facie correct.

Dr Umar had recently moved a two-week interim bail application before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat to attend his sister's wedding, which the Delhi police has opposed warning that his release could likely cause 'unrest in society'.

"Most of the time he keeps hoping that a proper date is fixed for delivering orders. Fixing a proper date, even if it is after a month or two, helps ease the anxieties a person (waiting for an order) goes through in jail," his mother had told Rediff.com in an interview some weeks earlier about her only son's anxieties in prison soon after his bail plea was rejected by the Delhi high court.

"I woke up this morning with him in my dreams. His absence during every happy occasion, every family union brings tears to our eyes," she says when asked how often she remembers her son.

You have said you are confident your son Umar Khalid will get bail. What makes you confident? What gives you this hope?

It is not just me who knows for a fact that how baseless the cases foisted (on my son) are. The charges are all concocted and like a bag full of lies. They (the prosecution and Delhi police) have not been able to prove any charges against him.

And based on all the arguments (between the prosecution and defence) that took place in the (Delhi) high court one only feels confident that bail will be granted (to Umar Khalid).

The fact that all the charges against my son are baseless and concocted, in itself, gives me all the hope.

As a mother I also know my son would never indulge in the kind of charges framed against him.

Does the fact that journalist Siddique Kappan and social activist Teesta Setalvad have been granted bail by the Supreme Court recently add to your hopes that Umar will get bail?

It does add to your hopes, but your hopes do not become strong just because someone else got bail. You tend to have strong hopes because there are no charges against my son.

Giving bail to those against whom frivolous charges are made is the bare minimum the judiciary can do. The judiciary must also take cognisance of how painful the process of keeping a judgment reserved is for the person and his family.

Why do you think the due process of law has taken more than two years in Umar's case? He was arrested on September 13, 2020.

The (judicial) process should be speedier than what it is so that undertrials don't have to suffer the punishment of spending time in jail even as the process drags on for years.

In his case the appeal for Umar's bail kept dragging on for long in the trial court itself. If you (the trial court) had to reject his bail, even when (the prosecution was not able to prove any) charges against him, you could have done it speedily.

But then Umar is not the only one suffering because of inordinate delays afflicting our judicial process.

If the trial court had quickly rejected his bail plea we would have appealed to the high court accordingly.

The process itself is often more painful than the punishment.

When did you last meet Umar?

I didn't meet him (personally in jail), but we connected via video call on Monday (September 19, 2022). Tihar Jail has its own app that helps undertrials connect with their families.

In one of his letters published by The Wire Umar was reportedly feeling low, lonely and pessimistic. How was he doing when you spoke to him?

In fact, we also had a telephonic call yesterday (September 21). Most of the time he keeps hoping that a proper date is fixed for delivering orders. Fixing a proper date, even if it is after a month or two, helps ease the anxieties a person (waiting for an order) goes through in jail.

He, though, is mentally very strong. He motivates us to be optimistic.

Despite being outside prison we can't control our anxieties (about when the bail plea order will be delivered) and just imagine how he must be feeling from within the four walls of his cell.

While he never openly expresses his feelings, we can feel it when we speak to him.

How does your conversation go when you or anybody from your family get to speak with him?

It is mostly a general conversation where we ask each other of our well-being; we request each other to take care of ourselves.

Sometimes, he asks 'Amma, aaj kya pakaya? (mother, what did you cook today?)' Though he is not a very keen eater he does talk about meals and dinners that we cook.

The other day we had a huge family gathering on the occasion of my elder sister's son's wedding. That day he was more interested in knowing about the well-being of all from the family from outside Delhi who had come to attend the wedding.

How does he spend his time in jail?

Most of his time is consumed in reading books. He loves to read and write.

The other day he (his mother speaks animatedly) was describing how he along with some of his cell mates play cricket in the free time using a broken wooden stick and a tennis ball which the prison authorities allow them to play with.

He quite enjoys this game of cricket inside prison. The other day, he did suffer a minor injury, but that's all about it. The prison inmates do get some time to exercise physically, play cricket and walk within the confines of the walls of the jail.

Most of the 24 hours, however, are spent inside the cell. Lot of time is consumed in washing clothes, cleaning the cell, etc.

He does ask us for books to read and spends a lot of time reading those books.

In the first few months of his jail time he suffered minor bruises on his fingers as he would hold a pen in his hand for a longer time. He has not been able to write properly as while doing his PhD, MPhil most of the study work was done by typing on a computer.

I often think, and this pains me a lot, thinking -- not just about Umar, but about all those undertrials who spend time in prison because of a lack of a speedy trial process -- how do these undertrials spend their time in jail?

Majority of Indians have experienced the pangs of spending time in confinement during the lockdown or when a family member had to be quarantined within a room during the pandemic. We all know how restless we would feel at such times even while having access to television, mobile phones.

He also reads a lot of newspapers that are available in the prison.

What keeps Umar in good spirits? What gives him the hope that woh subah kabhi toh aayegi (a dawn of hope, freedom and joy will usher itself in)?

The fact that he knows he is innocent; his conscience is clear; that the Constitution is Supreme. He knows he will get justice.

He knows that the fight for justice and equality that he, and many others like him, are fighting is not for their own better future, but for the generation of Indians who will follow.

He knows people will have to sacrifice their freedom and face the brunt of unjust regimes, but one should not lose hope.

What are those occasions when you miss Umar Khalid most?

Umar Khalid ki yaad toh har pal aati hai (sobs quietly throughout; he is always in our thoughts).

I am his mother; every moment he is in my thoughts. I woke up this morning with him in my dreams. His absence during every happy occasion, every family union brings tears to our eyes.

The day my daughter delivered twins I informed everybody in the family. Every moment then was spent thinking how I would break the news to him.

Every happy occasion, every festival, we think about him and it moistens our eyes.

When I go out and come across a young man or woman my son's age I end up with tears in my eyes.

We take our freedom so much for granted when there are young men and women who, for no fault of theirs, are spending time in jail.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
 
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