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‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter

“For last 14 months, our trial has not even begun. We have not got a chance to even prove our innocence.”

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Video Editors: Mohd Irshad Alam, Vivek Gupta

It feels as if the jail cell is shrinking as suffocation and claustrophobia creep in and take over one’s mind and body. I wait eagerly for the five-minute weekly phone call and the ten-minute video call twice a week to hear from home. But just as we start talking, the timer ticks off, cutting the call. Never before have I realised the value of every second like I do during such calls to home.

These were the words of Umar Khalid, in a letter he read to his friends Banojyotsna Lahiri and Anirban Bhattacharya.

Accused in the northeast Delhi communal riots case, charged with UAPA and currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail, in the letter, Khalid wrote about contracting COVID in jail, his anxieties, concerns for his family after his mother and uncle tested positive for coronavirus.

Khalid also acknowledged the agony of NOT being able to go home admit a raging pandemic in the letter. The Quint reads out Khalid’s heartfelt letter.

‘Health Crisis Has Increased Difficulties of Prison Life Manifold’

Taking about how the pandemic has taken a toll on his physical and mental health, increasing difficulties of prison life manifold Khalid said, "Life in jail is quite difficult even in normal times. I have spent the last eight months alone in a cell, locked up for over 20 hours a day, on several occasions."

Over the past one month, as the second wave of COVID 19 ravages India, I have not spent a day or night locked up in my cell without extreme anxiety – worried about my family and loved ones. Around mid-April, I got the news that my mother and several relatives had tested positive for COVID-19. The condition of my uncle was particularly serious as his oxygen levels kept falling and he was hospitalised and soon shifted to the ICU.
Umar Khalid
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter
(Illustration: Kamran Akhter)
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‘Quarantine Meant No Weekly Phone or Video Calls to Any of My Loved Ones’

Umar Khalid further speaks of contracting COVID in jail. "In the middle of the health scare at home, I woke up one morning not feeling well. I had fever and a terrible body ache. I rushed to the jail OPD to get tested but they sent me back with a few medicines," he recalled.

After six days of symptoms and a court order, I underwent a test, which returned positive. After testing positive, however, I got all the medical attention that I required and was quarantined.
Umar Khalid
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter
(Illustration: Kamran Akhter)
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‘UAPA Makes Mockery of SC Observation That Bail is Rule, Jail An Exception’

Khalid acknowledged how, unlike some of his co-accused and other inmates, who have been released from jail on parole or bail due to COVID pandemic, he will not be able to go home to his family and friends any time soon. "While in quarantine, I read about the High-Powered Committee appointed by the Delhi High Court contemplating like last year, the release of prisoners on emergency parole or interim baildue to COVID-19," he said in his letter.

I knew from the experience of last year, and it was subsequently confirmed that those arrested under the UAPA, will not be eligible for any interim relief. The only way for us to be back with our families is to secure regular bail which provisions of UAPA make extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, for the near future.
Umar Khalid
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter
(Illustration: Kamran Akhter)
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‘Only After a Long-drawn Trial That We Can Even Expect to be Free’

Speaking about the harshness of the draconia, anti-terror law, Khalid wrote, "For the last 14 months since the first arrest in our case, our trial has not even begun. We have not got a chance to even prove our innocence."

All 16 of us arraigned in this ‘conspiracy’ case are in pre-trial detention and the pandemic will only further delay the proceedings with several judges, lawyers and court staff falling ill. Clearly, the process itself is the punishment. And this process, torturously slow even in normal times, has become excruciatingly cruel in conditions that prevail today.”
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter
(Illustration: Kamran Akhter)
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‘My Heart Goes Out to Natasha’

The letter, carried by The Print, starts with Khalid condoling the death of another UAPA co-accused Natasha Narwal’s father Mahavir Narwal. "Two days after my COVID-19 quarantine came to an end inside the Tihar Jail, I read the terrible news about the death of co-accused Natasha's father Mahavir Narwal due to coronavirus. My heart goes out to Natasha in this hour of grief and loss. It is difficult to even imagine her pain and anguish," he wrote in his letter.

Far from being bogged down by ridiculous accusations of riot conspiracy’ under which Natasha was arrested, he defended her innocence as well as her activism, stating that he was proud of his daughter.”
Umar Khalid
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter
(Illustration: Kamran Akhter)
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‘Languishing in Conditions That’ve Gotten Worse Battling Disease, Anxiety’

Umar also spoke about how he has little hope from the government to release political prisoners during this pandemic. He even said how life would have been had he been free. He wrote, "Along with the loss of lives, experts have pointed out the huge toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the mental health of people for the past 14 months."

I keep thinking how life would be if we were free today we would have reached out to the ones in need with relief, with empathy and solidarity, irrespective of their identity. I wish people spared a thought for political prisoners and our families, for Mahavir Narwal, who not only suffered from COVID-19 at the end, but also from a year-long agonising wait longing to see his daughter free.
Umar Khalid
‘Release Political Prisoners’: We Read Umar Khalid’s Letter

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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