‘Demonising’ Umar Khalid: Today It’s Him, Tomorrow It Could Be Us

Aseem Sundan looks back at a diary entry he made in 2018, when Umar Khalid was demonised, and then shot at.

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Image of Umar Khalid used for representational purposes.
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I come from a generation that grew up reading about Bhagat Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan and various other revolutionaries – and about the ideas of justice, equality and compassion that they stood for.

Therefore, it is not an anomaly that I strive to write, stand up for those ideas, even when it is most difficult to do so – like many of us who had those ideas ingrained in us, taught to us by our elders.

It's not easy to not let your values disperse into thin air, because the air gets denser everyday, and it becomes difficult to breathe with every passing hour. For, what do you have without your values? It's like being untrue to yourself out of fear and I believe that I was born in a country where we strive for a ‘mind without fear’. So, how can I let fear win. But what is the cost of standing up for justice today in our country?

The media hunts you, demonises you, peddles fake news about you; you’re labelled an ‘anti-national’, you can be shot at in public and later, you can be booked under extraordinary and draconian provisions like the UAPA and arrested indefinitely.

What Happens To Young People Who Raise Their Voice Against The Establishment?

This is what being a young voice rooting for ideas of justice and love gets you – the government with all its might, power structures at its disposal, police, media, IT cell would all come after you, to finish you, rid you off those ideas, to make you conform.

In the last one year, we have had so many students and young activists being booked under the provisions of the UAPA – and at the same time we continue to battle a global pandemic which has the might to consume us all. I can't help but wonder how we as a society are okay with it.

I know semantics barely appeals to the masses, so I want to share a diary entry that treads on compassion, for I still believe that beyond the media circus and propaganda lies humanity – which strives for compassion above all.

What I Wrote In My Diary For Umar Khalid

It is something I wrote in my diary on 15 August 2018, two days after Umar Khalid, who was just a PhD student then, and who was first brutally demonised by the media for his religious identity and was then shot at, on 13 August 2018. I was obviously shaken, even though I had never met nor interacted with him at the time. I couldn't help but wonder how his parents must have felt listening to the news of their child being shot. I couldn't help but think of all the mothers who had children who still stood by those values of justice and equality. I couldn't help but think of my own mother. I couldn't help but think of the cost of those values.

Now, when Umar Khalid has been arrested again and sent to 10-day police custody on due to seemingly ‘baseless’ charges, I would like to share the same diary entry.

Diary Entry: 15 August 2018: The Cost of Justice

15 August 2018:

Dear diary,

It's funny how my mother is scared for me all the time. She keeps saying, “Why do you have to take their names in your articles and on stage?” I have always been fond of telling stories. When I used to tell stories as a child, my mother would look at me like I was this little flower she had brought from her far off home in Jaipur to Jammu, where she married my father, and the flower was learning to bloom in the north and was playing with words like butterflies play with their wings. A paragon of both of her homes. Now when I tell her stories she smiles feebly and her heart sinks – you can watch it sink like that paper boat which sets sail in a rain stream, nebulous yet euphoric, and just when it starts seeming like it'll sail forever, it sinks. Like a piccadilly circus of clouds washed away by a sudden flood of winds.

She's scared, she tries to convince herself more than me, when she says “you don't have to keep criticising them, you can write about other things too; there's love, Shiv Kumar Batalvi used to write about love only.”

“I want to tell her this is about love – about love being crushed by hatred, one heart at a time, and the only thing we want to save by doing all this, is Love. But most of the time, I don’t.”

She calls me every two hours to know if I am okay, when I write anything critical of the establishment. I understand this fear; it's in every mother’s heart today – especially those who have children who write, paint, oppose, criticise power, fight for justice in this country. It's in every mother’s heart who knows her children are being followed by shadows and mobs of monsters hiding behind the tri-color.

I know this fear, my mother feels it and I am a part of her, I can feel what she feels. We might never try and understand or acknowledge where this fear stems from. Yet we recognise it. All of us who have mothers can. Try and remember this fear. Think of this mother and just know this could be your mother tomorrow, when you decide to speak out against any injustice that directly affects you.

When we were children, they’d ask us in school on Independence Day – the one thing we want independence from this year. And if I could answer this question today I'd say – ‘I want independence from this fear that every mother of this country feels today.’

(Aseem Sundan is a poet and a photographer from Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir, based in Delhi. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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