Why Umar Khalid and Anand Teltumbde upset the State

Umar Khalid, a Marxist Muslim and Anand Teltumbde, a radical Ambedkarite are the fertile grounds of intellectual curiosity and compassion that the State wants to parch out of existence

Umar Khalid and Anand Teltumbde
Umar Khalid and Anand Teltumbde
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Annie Domini/IPA

The nature of the State is best found in the nature of those it seeks to silence. To understand the Narendra Modi-led government in the Centre, one must, therefore, parse the kind of men, women and others the Union wants to say shush to, the ones it wishes away by incarcerating them in the absurdest of manners.

Dr Umar Khalid – Muslim, Marxist, doctoral scholar from JNU of Adivasi history of Jharkhand, trying to gauge the complex relationship between the State and the tribal have-nots – has been arrested under the chokingly vague Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on the night of September 13. He’s accused of planning and executing the Delhi violence that raged through the north-eastern parts of the national Capital in the wake of the Delhi election results, in which the BJP was thoroughly trounced by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party.

Khalid, and a host of others including members of the feminist students collective Pinjda Tod, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, scholars like Gulfisha Fatima, have been arrested in connection with ‘Delhi riots’, on evidence so flimsy and fabricated that they wouldn’t even be admitted inside a poorly-written Bollywood script.

The common thread linking these student-activists is their prominent roles in the anti-CAA/NRC protests in Delhi and other parts of the country, doing their democratic duty to the Constitution by demanding the roll-back of a patently anti-constitutional, anti-Muslim legislation. Many of those arrested under UAPA are young, bright students coming from every walk of life, a rainbow coalition of youth determined to oppose the tyrannical state, lucid in their thinking, using technology to augment their radical politics of solidarity and justice, equality and liberty.

Umar Khalid’s pre-arrest recoded speech – in which he says that while the State is putting him in a literal jail, it’s also imprisoning the rest of the citizens in a metaphorical jail of lies and deceits, fantasies of a mythical golden age, in the cult of the Dear Leader– is a clear example of the clarity of his thoughts, of his fearlessness, his moral strength and quiet charisma, exactly what the State wants to wipe out from our collective minds.

As Milan Kundera once said: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Khalid, now in police custody, wants to keep our memories alive, which the State, and its harvest of hate via a pliant media, wants buried, burnt and erased. Khalid wants us to remember and see beyond the hysteria onscreen, the Hindu nationalist hashtags, the death dance of manipulated electoral politics, the hoodwinked working and salaried classes hollowed out by serial economic blows. Khalid makes the connections, the associations beyond the managed headlines and manufactured myths, the links highlighting our commonality, instead of only the differences. Khalid wants us to question the State and its continuous devaluing of the citizens, and reminds us who indeed is the master in the citizen-State relationship. No wonder the State wants to lock him up!

The parallels with Dr Anand Teltumbde are unflinchingly eerie. Teltumbde was arrested on April 13 of this year, though the State has been making it clear it’s after him since the 2018 arrests of the Bhima-Koregaon activists. That the radical Ambedkarite who happens to be the grandson-in-law of Bhimrao Ambedkar himself, is arrested on Ambedkar Jayanti, is itself a cruel joke played by a State addicted to perverse irony. That Teltumbde was arrested “in connection with Bhima-Koregaon” is doubly disturbing given the Dalit scholar’s critique of the movement itself, its heavily situating of itself in identity politics.

However, once Teltumbde’s scholarship is examined carefully, it becomes clear why the State fears him so. Teltumbde makes poignant and urgent correlations between the Hindutva project, the unhinged crony capitalism on display, the State’s umbrage at both Dalit assertion and Dalit-Muslim-working class solidarities expressed until now via electoral and other avenues of democratic self-expression.

Teltumbde understands and elucidates, just like Khalid, how privatisation of public goods, including higher education, healthcare, etc., go hand in hand with the ideological politics of Hindutva. While Khalid calls it the “Jio model” in an essay published in the magazine The Caravan, Teltumbde decries how neoliberal Hindutva divides and rules over Dalits and other oppressed peoples, egging them on to act out the fantasies of Islamophobia.

Umar Khalid, witch-hunted since 2016, and Anand Teltumbde, clandestinely framed and imprisoned, are the fertile grounds of intellectual curiosity and compassion that the State wants to parch out of existence. Minds like Khalid and Teltumbde ignite the tinderboxes of locked up imagination, of young souls venturing beyond the beaten path of old school communism and/or left-liberal politics and perusing rich compounds of ideological justice, liberty, equality, solidarity and care.

Khalid, especially, understands the importance of love as a political weapon, of compassion as an emancipatory tool in the unfettered fight towards a better tomorrow. As cultural critic Shuddhabrata Sengupta writes, “love, liberty and ethics” form the bedrock of Khalid’s preternatural fortitude, his beautiful mind. Khalid’s PhD supervisor at JNU, Sangeeta Dasgupta, rues why no one asks teachers like her anything about Khalid before indulging in his character assassination onscreen and off-screen.

The pragmatic-romantic, idealist-realist in Umar Khalid is being branded a “Muslim terrorist” today by a State that is laughably incompetent if it were not so banally evil. In today’s world, to love is to terrorise those who would rather we hate on. Love is therefore the revolution Khalid has been jailed for.

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