Attack on Umar Khalid Was Preceded by Social Media Hate Campaign, Threats

The attempt on Khalid indicates that JNU students, following months of threats on social media, might be facing organised attacks from groups that are ideologically opposed to them.

New Delhi: In what appears to be an assassination attempt in the heart of the capital, Umar Khalid, student leader from JNU who was arrested on sedition charges in February 2016, narrowly escaped death when a man tried to shoot at him on Monday. He escaped unhurt.

Khalid and his friends had gathered at the Constitution Club for a discussion on mob lynchings and minority alienation under the Narendra Modi regime on Monday afternoon when he was attacked by an unidentified man carrying a pistol.

For the last few days, Khalid has been mobilising people on social media to join the discussion organised by the civil society group United Against Hate. The discussion was supposed to focus on eyewitnesses from Rajasthan, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh who saw Hindutva mobs beating up Muslim persons in the name of cow protection.

Former JNU student Banojyotsna Lahiri was by Khalid’s side at the time of the attack, minutes before the event was to start. She said Khalid and three of his friends, including her, were having tea when a person pulled Khalid by his shirt collar to the ground. “The man lost his balance too when Khalid fell to the ground. Soon, the person stuck his pistol on Khalid’s stomach, seeing which Khalid pushed him. Another friend Shariq and I then pushed him further. The attacker then started to run the other side,” she told The Wire.

“In the meantime, I escorted Khalid towards the Constitution Club gates. I came back again to see where Shariq was, as he had chased the attacker. But I soon heard a ‘bang’ sound and thought it was a gun fire,” she said, adding that she was not sure whether the gunfire was aimed at Shariq or not.

According to other witnesses, the attacker left the gun in front of the IANS building, opposite the Constitution Club, before he fled the scene. The gun was recovered by the police.

The attempt to murder Khalid reflects that the hate campaign against JNU students has assumed much bigger proportions than mere threats on social media. Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and many other JNU students have been getting death threats from Hindutva supporters on social media quite frequently ever since these students were falsely implicated in a sedition case that accused them of raising anti-national slogans. Rashid has been receiving frequent rape threats on social media. Despite complaints, the police failed to take any action against these online offenders.

It may be recalled that these students have been facing verbal flak from Hindutva supporters many times. In one instance, Khalid was aggressively followed by a bunch of Hindutva supporters near Priya cinema theatre in Basant Lok, where he had gone to watch a movie. Then, the RSS-affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, forced the Ramjas College authorities to cancel a seminar where Khalid was supposed to speak on his PhD topic – Tribal resistance against British in colonial Jharkhand. Following this, the ABVP threw stones and beat up several students who were protesting against the cancellation of the event.

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, Kanhaiya Kumar too, was brutally attacked by a group of Hindutva-sympathetic lawyers in the Patiala House court, where he was due to appear for his bail hearing. In multiple instances, he faced verbal abuses and physical assaults in various public platforms since 2016.

However, the attempt on Khalid now indicates that JNU students might be facing organised attacks from groups that are ideologically opposed to them. This may fuel another polarised political debate over JNU, diverting attention from social and economic issues like lynchings and unemployment that are currently being discussed widely.