The Murder of Democracy: 1000 days of Umar Khalid's incarceration

Khalid moved the Supreme Court for bail in May 2023

Shahrukh Alam, Manoj Jha, Prabhat Patnaik, SQR Ilyas (photo: Vipin/National Herald)
Shahrukh Alam, Manoj Jha, Prabhat Patnaik, SQR Ilyas (photo: Vipin/National Herald)

NH Digital

“It is a social waste to incarcerate a fine young man like Umar Khalid for 1,000 days. Even during the anti-colonial freedom struggle, Gandhi was not in jail for 1,000 days at a stretch,” pointed out economist Prabhat Patnaik. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) PhD student Umar Khalid has been in jail for 1,000 days (2.7 years) now without a trial with the court reserving its judgement on his bail application. 

Patnaik underscored that judges wax eloquent when they make speeches but in judgements, they don’t espouse what they speak. “He has been incarcerated because the judiciary is subservient to the executive,” added Patnaik at a press conference. Khalid moved the Supreme Court for bail in May 2023.

Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha, JNU professor and economist Prabhat Patnaik, journalist Ravish Kumar, Supreme Court lawyer Shahrukh Alam, and Umar Khalid’s father SQR Ilyas were part of the conference.

He pointed out that fascism is on the rise whenever there is a crisis of capitalism as there is a huge rise in unemployment. “Fascism rises from the lumpenisation of society,” underscored Patnaik, while urging the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice of those incarcerated for longer than a year.

“Bail should be automatically available to those who have been imprisoned for more than a year. This would expedite the trials at least,” argued Patnaik.

Agreeing with Patnaik, Jha questioned what has been the fault of RJD youth leader Meeran Haider, Khalid and all those in jail allegedly for the Delhi riots. “We are the mother of democracy, but the mother is unwell. It is going through multiple organ failures,” quipped Jha.

Haider, Khalid and Gulfisha Fatima are among 18 others who were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act for allegedly being the “masterminds” of the February 2020 riots that left 53 people dead and over 700 injured. They have been accused of using the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, to instigate communal riots and stop the rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC)

The RJD MP pointed out that democracy was not about elections. “It is about the about institutions that make up democracy. After all, justice delayed is justice denied,” he added.

For the police, Supreme Court lawyer Alam pointed out that dissent was always about law and order, but hate speech isn’t. “Law and order must always be tempered with equity and justice. When a lot of people feel affected about the leader who should not be named, then it becomes about law and order,” said Alam.  

Speaking at the event, Khalid’s father Ilyas said that Khalid was not even in Delhi when the riots broke out, yet he has been in jail. “The judgement in his bail application case has been reserved for four months. This is to keep him in jail for as long as possible. He was a young man who saw the dream of a country where everyone has food, a roof above their head, and everyone would get justice. That is the young man who has been jailed,” said an emotional Ilyas, while stressing he was speaking for all those who have been jailed, including those who have been framed for the Bhima Koregaon case.

Bail is the rule and jail the exception, but now the opposite happens, asserted Ilyas.

The Delhi Police have failed chargesheets against those accused under four sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, 25 sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, two sections of the Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act, 1984 and two sections of the Arms Act, 1959. 

In a series of cases, various Delhi courts granted bail in Delhi riots cases, while holding the police responsible for “vague evidence and general allegations,” a “shoddy probe”, “absolutely evasive”, and “lackadaisical” attitude; the police have been accused by various courts of investigations that are “callous”, “casual” and “farcical”, “poor” or “painful to see”. 

Though Delhi High Court Justices Anup Jairam Bhambhani and Siddharth Mridul had granted bail to three of the co-accused in the same case in June 2021, a year later Mridul denied bail to Khalid.

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