"I First Realised Umar Khalid Was in Trouble When I Saw Arnab Goswami Shouting At Him"
NEW DELHI: SQR ilyas and his wife had no idea that the turmoil in Jawaharlal Nehru University would burn their son until they tuned in to Times Now that evening and saw their son Umar Khalid being virtually branded as an anti-national traitor by the TV anchor who follows his own version of journalism. It was then that loud alarm bells rang for Ilyas, who has worked for long in the field, and he telephoned his son and asked him to come home directly from the studios.
“ I did not know anything until I had switched on the television. After watching the way Arnab Goswami was speaking to him, shouting at him, I realised that something was not right. And I called my son and asked him to come home,” ilyas told The Citizen in an interview.
Khalid, with the passion of youth and the innocence as well, felt protected by the democracy of India and refused. “JNU is boiling,” he told his father, “and I will come once things are normal there.” Despite the pillorying, the nastiness, the refusal to allow him to speak by the said anchor that was visible for all to see, Khalid still had not seen any danger signals insofar as he was concerned.
The next time Ilyas saw him was when he re-surfaced in the campus and shortly before he was taken away by the police. Khalid’s mother, of course, is deeply worried as the eldest in a family of six siblings. She has visited him in police custody along with Ilyas, and find solace in the support they are getting from the students and the optimism that justice will be delivered, and their son will soon be free.
The family has gone through a media trial, along with their young son. The five sisters are all well educated from well known schools and colleages. The eldest sister is studying in a University in the United States. But after the Times Now Anchor Arnab Goswami branded Khalid as a terrorist shortly after JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested in the crackdown on JNU, the girls started getting dire threats on the social media. llyas himself received phone calls threatening him with death and he has now filed an Fir for whatever it is worth. The abuse reserved for the girls was terrifying and frightening. But of course, for the said television channel and the others reporting on the case this was not a violation of the laws, and not worth reporting.
Khalid in his speech before he was taken away by the police from the campus gave an inspiring speech but said that while he was not scared for himself, he did panic when he heard about the kind of abuse and threats his sisters and parents were receiving.
llyas admitted that this flood of abuse was terrifying. But being a calm, sober gentleman he did not use dwell on this at all. In fact, his responses to questions were straight and factual. One of the points that was reported by sections of the media as part of a larger slander campaign, was that he was a member of the banned SIMI. Asked about it, Ilyas was matter of fact. He said that he had been the President of SIMI between 1983-85. And as he pointed out that at the time there was not a single case registered against the body, and it was part of the legitimate structure of India. It was banned only in 2001 as part of the then NDA government’s response to the attack on Parliament. And as he pointed out with a smile, “and even this was long before Umar was even born.”
Currently Ilyas is the President of the Welfare party that has been contesting elections, and currently has a presence he says in ten states. It has won seats in the local body elections in Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, West Bengal.
Being from a conservative background, Ilyas is conservative in his politics. He did not see eye to eye with his son, who chose another path that also made him a non-believer and brought him into conflict with the family’s beliefs. But as Ilyas said, “we had our differences of course, we did not agree on a host of issue, we would debate, argue but that does not mean that familial links were severed.” Khalid was described by his father as being very passionate always about the marginalised and “very innocent.” Khalid graduated from Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College and his students, at least one has written of him as well, found him to be the completely counter to the media and political created stereotype for the average Muslim.
As Khalid himself said in his speech in JNU, this was the first time that he was made to feel that he was a Muslim. And that he learnt things about himself that he himself did not know through the same media campaign, of having visited Pakistan when he did not even have a passport. Ilyas said that his son seemed fine until he was in police custody. Now Khalid is now on remand with the Delhi Special Cell that is interrogating him, maintaining that his laptop and mobile and social media accounts are still being searched for information. Khalid, incidentally, has not bothered to disguise his political beliefs either in the TV studio where he, after being invited was pilloried and harangued, or in his the last speech in JNU before his arrest. He is direct, honest, and clearly infused with the passion of youth. There is not a single video of his shouting slogans.
Incidentally, before the tables were turned so dramatically the students---including Khalid, Kanhaiya, Anirban----and others were preparing for a demonstration in Delhi on Rohith Vemula’s suicide. This was to be a mammoth show, with the JNU student coordination the protest, that took place as scheduled of course, but without Kanhaiya, Khalid, Anirban and the others.
Meanwhile, perhaps the media that is misusing its power might still develop a sense of ethics and realise the kind of damage it can do and does with its rush to proscribe, persecute and hang from the comfort of the studios.