Converting Umar Khalid to Islam

The targeting of Umar and Anirban shows the deep hatred towards the idea of education that produces contrarian opinions.


Umar Khalid at JNU. Credit: Shome Basu

We stand disgraced as a country today, for two students of JNU, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, surrendered last night.

Why did they have to surrender? Because a witch hunt is on. Because someone, anyone, but especially a Muslim, has to be caught. The younger the better, and more importantly, the more innocent the better. Umar may never have felt like a Muslim and no one at JNU may have ever made him feel like that. Anyone can see that he is no terrorist. But it is the task of the state to show that he is a Muslim first, and hence, by definition, first a sympathiser of Pakistan and a terrorist, and everything else later.

We will convert Umar to Islam. We, as a nation, have already converted him to Islam. The rites of passage have to be gone through, that is all. The police station, the courts, the lawyers, the case, the charges, the arguments and the counter-arguments will all be necessary for the conversion, the stamping of a fine young man as a villain, of an atheist as a believer, of what is a truth metamorphosed into a lie. But that won’t further our disgrace. Disgraced we are, already.

The surrender took place because of one fact: prejudice has reached such levels that we do not see it any more. Some sections of the media have been strident in baying for Umar’s blood – some channels are showing pictures of Umar as if he were some dreaded terrorist, an Osama Bin Laden, a wanted man – that it is surprising that we live in a free nation.

Such heresy would not have been in sight had the name of the person been anything else, maybe Shyam Surjewala or Govind Mehta. Does the police act with such alacrity, such efficiency, such swift footedness, in other cases where FIRs are filed? The answer is too obvious to be stated.

But where the target is easy, where the quarry is defenceless, there the police must act. Where the target is a Muslim, on top of that young and bright, someone who can articulate his opinions, then we have to get him, we have to get on top of him and crush him under the weight of a Kafkaesque nightmare. For that is what the police is for in this country. Umar must see the full weight of the great country he lives in – the country of clerks and bureaucrats, of files and notices, of policemen and lawyers, of hearings and postponements, of endless trials and hackneyed judgments. A country that has already decided who is innocent and guilty without a trial.

Umar’s education has just begun. He was mistaken in thinking that he was being educated at JNU. We will teach him. We, the disgraced ones. We are the true professors.

JNU has shown great unity and resilience in these trying circumstances. The resistance of the students is commendable and exciting as well. Something new has come up. Some hope is still there for this country. But JNU is not the country and the country is not JNU. The country is wrapped in the vestments of medieval prejudice and emotions that must be acted upon. Reason is not at a premium here.

The targeting of Umar and Anirban shows the deep hatred towards the idea of education that produces contrarian opinions. Education is fine with us as long as it leads to a job but the idea that education can open our minds and make us feel differently and see differently is so alien to our culture that students like Umar or Anirban shock and surprise us.

How can a person feel for the poor? How can someone have a political opinion that does not celebrate free market economics?  How can a person have a different opinion at all? To have a different opinion is an absurdity, something impossible to even understand. This is how sections of the media have reacted. We don’t understand people like Umar or Anirban. They are not people at all, just some strange animals, maybe not even human. We call them anti-nationals, a new species of humans, who are fun to hunt and whose blood we can bay for in this renewed game of nationalism. A fun game to play, as we, devoid of opinions and rights, with our tepid education, sipping our tea and eating our cakes and paying our taxes, can take some pleasure at seeing the innocent crushed by the system we support.

It is certainly true that we are a great nation, that we have a great culture, that we have great achievements to our credit, but there are moments of disgrace and shame that we must recognise if we have to continue to be great. Today is a such a moment.

Nilanjan Bhowmick is an Assistant Professor in Delhi University’s Department of Philosophy.

  • http://kunalkishore.co.in Kunal Kishore

    Suddenly, everyone seems to know how and what should a Nation stand for. A great Nation has been reduced to disgustingly low level of subject-maturity on issues like Nation and Nationalism. Young superbly bright students of prestigious institutions are branded Anti-nationals by people whose only possession is a twitter handle or facebook login. Prof. Nilanjan is fast, un-hesitant and head on. This is deliberate annihilation of dissent. The idea of India, certainly, sadly, is being ravaged at its core.

    • Aniruddha Shidhaye

      What about Anirban? Anirban Chaudhry is a Hindu name, he was too arrested with Umar. Kanhaiya, he is a Hindu with his name of a certain Hindu god. He was arrested by the police immediately. For Umar, police waited outside the JNU campus. He willingly surrendered to them.

  • anil kumar goyal

    Whatever little I know about names and religions, Kanhaiya Kumar should be a Hindu name for whom Police entered JNU and arrested him on the very first day. For Umar Khalid, Police not only waited outside the univ gate but invited ridicule from political leaders like Kumar Vishwas and Ashutosh that the Police does not have guts to enter Univ. It looks like Umar’s religion is being used as ‘card’ by those who who use students, minors and children to further their political interests. We have plethora of cards like Dalit card, Muslim card, woman card, patriotism card nationalism card etc.and we are experts in using the appropriate card when required.

    • Danendra Jain

      You are absolutely true

  • S.Thiyagarajan

    Mr.Niranjan, how can you write such a blatantly racist article? Umar has been secured by the police not because he is a muslim,but for his anti-national activities. To conjure motives even at this early stage of the case shows the highly biased attitude of the author towards the Indian state, Modi govt. and the police. Does he want the police and the authorities to keep quiet and applaud when certain misguided and GUIDED students indulge in blatantly anti-national activities from inside the cushy environs of JNU. They are misusing the JNU facilities. Their activities are as foolish as cutting the root of the tree sitting on top of the tree. The pollice and the govt. has shown lot of restraint in dealing with the students and there is a limit for the tolerance of the law. I donot know how he concludes that Umar is innocent and he is being framed since he is a muslim. Surely Kanhaiya and Anirban are not muslims. Authors like Niranjan are doing a great disservice to Hindu-muslim unity by writing biased articles like this. For your information, JNU has never been a tolerant institution; only left wing fossilised ideas were encouraged and contrarians views were ruthlessly suppressed by the students as well as by the faculty. Now when the colour of JNU is changing from pure red to saffron, JNU which is the last refuge of communism in the world, is crying hoarse. Be fair Mr. Niranjan. Write objevtively and not subjectivelu and selectively. You are as emotional as the GUIDED students of JNU.Any govt. worth the salt will act tough when national ethos are sought to be undermined. To blame everybody except the perpetrators of heinous activities only exposes your hypocrisy. You are doing a great disservice to the nation by your article. I donot know whom you are trying to please and what are your compulsions?

  • Mumuamma

    I truly appreciate much that you have said here but I am rather troubled by the implicit assumption you seem to make between Islam and religious fundamentalism. India needs to be safe as your article so powerfully for everyone including believers of all faiths and yet reading this one gets the impression that JNU is being commended for not letting someone feel like a Muslim. What if someone feels like a Muslim — where is the problem with that? What if someone is of contrarian views – where is the problem with that? Should we not be arguing for a nation where believers, non-believers, contrarians, are all safe? I do think you also agree but somehow your article seems to valorize only one version of secularism.

  • GM

    if majority of the country is wrong in categorizing this as sedition.. you are much more wrong in shaming the whole country.. your love for a person or university or free speech cannot be disguised under your own guilt towards minorities.. Result for criminal offense should be same for all sects and casts and must take its own discourse .. if your and my opinions could run a country which is so diverse to even have a unified law.. then god save our country….
    Disclosure: I dont love right … but I even hate the idea being on left knowing they couldnt save their home state and most of the progressive bengalis have left it to die slowly in the hands of it leftist

    • Arun Ohri

      i agree with your sentiments

  • Karma is a bitch

    That’s all you could say to refute him? Cogent indeed!

  • Apratim Mukarji

    I am sure that even at this dark hour the majority of Indians will stand firm for secularism.

    • Maximus Decimus

      they are brainwashed kiddos who believe everything they read in their text books