Umar Khalid is an ‘intelligent man’

Umar Khalid has spent 584 days in prison since Sept 2020, charged with conspiracy, engineering Delhi riots in February 2020. There is no case against him, his lawyer argued. Judges appear unconvinced

Umar Khalid is an ‘intelligent man’

Shalini Sahay

Thanks to live tweets by Bar & Bench and LiveLaw from the courtroom, it has become easier for people to follow legal arguments and observations by the Bench. The following exchanges this week between the court and activist Umar Khalid’s lawyer pleading for bail are instructive.

• Justice Siddharth Mridul, Delhi High Court: The question is did his speech (delivered in Maharashtra in December 2019) result in riots in Delhi (February 23-29, 2020)…that is the link we have to look at… what is the result of the speech. Did it incite people in Delhi to come on to streets?

• Events unconnected with the accused (Umar Khalid) cannot be removed (from the charge sheet) because he has also been charged with conspiracy. Everything that your co-conspirator does is attributable to you as part of the conspiracy. By himself he will not be able to give what we say ‘anjaam’ to the conspiracy. You have to answer for the act of conspiracy. Therefore, your submission is not something we can appreciate. Everything your co-conspirators did will be linked to you.

Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar: “This 'jumla' is used for the PM of India. Is that proper? There has to be a line drawn for criticism also. There has to be a laxman rekha.”

Tridip Pais, Lawyer for Umar Khalid: There two-three reasons why your lordships should see Khalid's speech. In the last hearing your lordships had observed that the speech was offensive and inciteful but that is not the part of the speech on which the case against me is based. The speech says that people of this organisation did not participate in freedom struggle but students of Jamia did. It says today, there is a narrative against it but Jamia has always stood up for the Constitution.

Justice Mridul: When was Jamia set up? It was set up after Independence, no? Therefore, the backdrop that students from Jamia or JNU participated in freedom struggle may not have legs to stand on...

Pais: Jamia was set up in 1924.

Justice Mridul: Alright

Justice Bhatnagar: Who is referred to as camel? It says 'Oont pahad ke neeche aa gaya'.

Pais: He is talking about the government. The speech is certainly against CAA and government policy. It certainly says that the organisation that he refers to (RSS) did not participate in freedom struggle but those who are referred to as anti-national (anti-CAA protestors) did.

J Bhatnagar: What does he say about the Prime Minister in the speech?

Pais: He says a lot against the PM, against the CAA/NRC and government policies but that cannot be a crime. J Mridul: He uses the words inquilab and kranktikari. What is the meaning of the word?

Pais: Revolutionary

J Bhatnagar: He used the word changa, what is that?

Pais: The phrase 'sab changa si' was used by the Prime Minister…My lords were saying the speech is critical of the PM… but is it a crime?

J Mridul: Watch the emphasis he gives to "aap log sadak par nikal kar aaenge". Of course, you can argue that it is not incitement to violence. It is only asking people to protest.

Pais: Yes, he is talking about Gandhi.

J Mridul: Someone may say it is a carefully crafted speech and there is no question Dr Umar Khalid is an intelligent man.

Pais: The charge sheet says Sharjeel Imam was introduced to Yogendra Yadav.

J Mridul: Oh! I don't think introducing Sharjeel Imam to Yogendra Yadav is an offence.

Pais: I am glad it fell from your lords. It has been presented as crime in the chargesheet.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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