'Umar is being targeted because he is emerging as an educated, knowledgeable leader of the Muslim community and, unlike popular perceptions that many harbour about Muslims, took to peaceful means to protest against the NRC and CAA.'
'They (the State) are scared of educated Muslim leadership.'
Social activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, who is charged in connection with 'conspiracy' in connection with the Delhi riots of February 2020 was denied bail by Delhi Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat on March 24.
Umar's father Dr S Q R Ilyas speaks with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com why Umar and his family were not surprised by the rejection of his bail plea and the reasons why the Union government is determined to keep Umar and other young activists like him in jail for a long time to come.
How is Umar doing in jail?
Umar is doing fine in jail. He is alright. After his bail plea was rejected, he spoke to his mother. Contrary to what some people might hope, he is quite cheerful and cheered up his mother by saying that he has faith in the judiciary.
Did he express any anxiety or frustration after his bail plea was rejected?
He is neither frustrated nor disappointed because he knew his bail plea was likely to be rejected by the lower court.
As for anxiety, I must tell you that he has always been a cheerful young boy and since 2016 (when charge of sedition was filed against him in the JNU case) he has learned to live with such concocted cases.
We all know how winding and tedious the process of law is in India. He told his mother to keep faith in the judiciary because he knows that the cases filed against him, the charges against him, are all fabricated and concocted.
Even the people who were listed as witnesses (to depose against Umar) were not openly produced in court and even those witnesses have given all contradictory statements.
The whole case has been so framed that you can say with certainty that the State is behind the case. If the State has made up its mind to keep someone in jail without that person committing any crime, then these things are bound to happen.
We will be soon approaching the (Delhi) high court (for Umar's bail).
Since his arrest in September 2020, it's almost 18 months now since Umar has been in jail. How has his mental health been? Is he showing any signs of breaking down mentally?
He is a young man who has spent most of his growing up as a man of struggle. His mental makeup is very solid. He is very well prepared to face the kind of harassment from the State, the mainstream and social media he has been subjected to. He is a tough boy, mentally.
How are you as a family coping with Umar being in jail since September 2020?
We too have learnt to be strong in these trying times for the family. His mother is also a brave woman.
We too have been going for court hearings and subjected to all kind of talk from the people that it has further convinced us about our son's innocence.
We know how inhuman the State can be and how strongly it can come down on Constitution-respecting young Indians who have been raising their voices against communal and fascist forces.
So, all that Umar -- and many other young girls and boys like him -- has gone through is a given and these young kids are very well prepared for the consequences.
The family has confidence and huge patience and will wait for the day when he will be cleared of all the false charges against him.
Why is Umar being targeted and not allowed to come out on bail? Is it because you were once a SIMI leader and Umar happens to be a Muslim?
My past has got nothing to do with Umar's arrest or the false cases against him. I quit SIMI way back in 1985.
He -- and many others like Umar -- is being targeted because they are emerging as educated, knowledgeable leaders of the Muslim community and, unlike popular perceptions that many harbour about Muslims, took to peaceful means to protest against the NRC and CAA publicly. They (the State) are scared of educated Muslim leadership.
In all his speeches, you will not find a single word or sentence that goes against India's Constitution or laws. So, these people (those who control the executive arms of the State) think that these type of leadership emerging from among the Muslim community is a threat to their idea of how the nation should be run and hence to demoralise them, to demolish them as humans and leaders, the State is making all the efforts to keep them behind bars.
Umar has been facing sedition charges since 2016 and even in 2022 the prosecution has not moved the case in court. What does that tell you about slapping of such cases against leaders like Umar and others?
They keep on slapping sedition, terror charges against him just so that they can keep him in jail for a longer time.
Is the BJP trying to break Umar Khalid and other young leaders from the Muslim community mentally?
They are, but they must know that he will not (break down mentally). He is a tough young boy, as I told you earlier. He has accepted the fight against communal and fascist forces as his way of life and these forces cannot stop Umar's fight for India's Constitution by lengthening his stay in jail.
The way the media is creating the narrative against him outside the court proves that they want to keep the pot boiling.
If you are going to regularly charge a person who is not at all, even remotely, connected to riots, or terror activities by calling him (in the media) as the main accused, chief conspirator, then it only proves that you want to demolish, demoralise, that person.
You can't demolish, demoralise Umar Khalid. You can't demolish what Umar Khalid stands for.
Alhamdulillah (praise Allah), I am sure that he will not be demoralised at all.
When did you last meet Umar?
We do not meet him physically but every Tuesday we are allowed to connect with him via a video call.
What does he tell you about his time in jail?
That he has been doing good in jail and he spends his time reading and creating awareness among his fellow inmates about the Constitution.
All through his writing in various media he has given a clear message to the Indian youth: We have to save India's democracy and Constitution.
We have to save India from the communal, fascist. forces because they are altering the building blocks of India as a nation. He believes it is the responsibility of India's youth to come forward and wage a peaceful agitation against these forces.
That has always been his clear message and that is what he is doing in jail too: Creating awareness about the rights and responsibilities that India's Constitution confers upon Indian citizens.
How are the jail authorities treating him?
They are quite good to all the prison inmates. He has been kept in slight isolation compared to other inmates due to security reasons. He is not allowed to mingle much with other inmates.
While he is confined to a small cell, he is allowed to go out, three hours every morning and evening, and meet people too.
There is always a threat inside jail, but he is a kind of person who befriends people wherever he goes. He meets people, he talks to them and everybody knows the charges under which he has been kept in prison.