A nation is an act of solidarity. More appropriate would be to say that if it is not, then it should aspire to be an exercise in solidarity. Because solidarity is not a given state. It is always an aspiration, an ambition. If a nation is nothing but the people that own it, then for the people to be one, they have to participate in the lives of one another. One must have the confidence that there is a hand extended to hold on to. We do not spurn the hand.
When I heard that members or associates of ‘United Against Hate’ were arranging food for the agitating farmers, it warmed my heart. UAH is known as an organisation led by Muslims. It was reassuring to see it extending its solidarity to the farmers who are away from their homes, their hearths.
But I was told that the members started getting calls from the people who are supposed to maintain law and order, asking them why they were providing food to these farmers. Very soon, the mouthpieces of the anti-Muslim ecosystem got active. They started attacking the UAH’s friendly act. They alleged that the UAH had links with the riots that hit Delhi in February this year. Now that this organisation was helping the “so called protesting farmers”, there must be something fishy. This seemingly friendly act must have some sinister design behind it. It was time to launch an operation against these, it said. So, a malicious propaganda targeting the UAH has started again.
I say again, because the UAH is already facing a hateful and violent tirade against it. It was started by the person who holds the home ministry of this country. In his statement on the floor of the parliament, the home minister had alleged that the UAH was involved in organising the violence in Delhi. Sarcastically he had said that their name sounded beautiful but their actions were vicious.
This statement had its consequences. Khalid Saifi, one of the founders and driving forces behind the UAH, was arrested even before this statement and the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was slapped against him. He was brutalised by the police while in their custody. After him Asif Tanha, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, was also arrested. The prize catch for the Delhi police was Umar Khalid. Khalid is also a founding member of the UAH. Another founding member of the UAH, Nadeem Khan, was called by the special cell of the Delhi police and his phone seized.
The crime of the UAH was that its members had actively participated in the anti Citizenship (Amendment) Act-National Register of Citizens protests in Delhi and outside the capital as well. Khalid, one of its founders, was a much-sought-after speaker across India. He is not only intelligent but also a powerful orator.
Khalid had, however, been turned into a hate figure in 2016 itself. Again by a person who was then the home minister of India. Khalid, a research scholar and a Left-leaning student activist of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, was declared to be part of a gang who wanted to break India and had links with terrorists sitting in Pakistan. The mainstream media jumped in and unleashed a violent campaign against Khalid. The fact of his being the son of a leader of Jamat-e-Islami was also used against him. It was claimed that he had travelled to Pakistan to muster support for his ‘nefarious’ conspiracy to break India.
It turned out that Khalid did not even possess a passport. But this fact could not undo the damage done by the media and the propaganda machine of the ruling party. Khalid was painted as an anti-national and arrested. He was later released on bail, like Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya.
The fact that Khalid practised a politics which was very different from that of his father was again seen as a conspiracy: he was genetically or through lineage an Islamist and by design a leftist. His very being represented the ‘Left-jihadi nexus’ which is hell bent on destroying India.
This image has grown despite the fact that charges against him remain mere allegations and have not been substantiated in the courts. The propaganda continues. He, meanwhile, completed his PhD. As one can see, the Central government and Delhi police have no interest in expediting the case against him. Without any evidence, it is bound to collapse in the courts. So, it is good to let it linger and the allegations being repeated to turn him into a living threat before us.
In 2017, I learnt that Khalid with some of his friends like Bhattacharya and Banojyotsna Lahiri had formed a group called United Against Hate. Two other central figures were Nadeem Khan and Khalid Saifi. Targeting and killing of Muslims under the pretext of opposing cow slaughter or cow smuggling was becoming the norm of the day. There was no organised effort to document these crimes and provide legal help to the family of the victims who were mostly poor. This group started visiting them, from Assam to Jharkhand, and brought out detailed reports. It also made it a point to include atrocities on Dalits in its agenda. It did not leave out the attack on the police officer Subodh Kumar Singh, who was lynched by a mob under the pretext of protesting cow slaughter.
The UAH started a helpline to extend support to the victims of hate crime. What the UAH was doing was the need of the hour. It was naming hate crime as a distinct crime. Fighting for secularism meant effective opposition to hate crimes.
The UAH had a youthful energy to it. It attracted Muslim youth, women and men both. It did not try to hide the Muslim identity of its main leaders in the garb of ‘secularism’, while maintaining that the cause of secularism can be served only when one stands firmly with minority rights.
The composition of the UAH was something which made even some Left secular friends uneasy. Nadeem Khan was affiliated to the Jamat-e-Islami. But Khalid, Bhattacharya and Lahiri professed a politics which could be called Left. So, how could it be possible that they worked together? There must be something hidden.
I observed the activity of the group closely. I did not know any of them very well but after having long conversations with them, realised that it was an honest collective effort. The UAH was not an outfit of any organisation, its command did not lie outside the group, the members had occasional differences, all of them had individual styles and individual strengths. It functioned like any other group of youngsters. It was essentially a youth group. One could say that it lacked experience and it would be difficult to find out what its ideology was. I tried to reason with my suspicious friends that an honest association like this was possible.
It was possible that hate should disturb some people more than anything else, and to combat that they could come together without dissolving their ideologies. When you interact with an entity which is difficult to define or categorise, it makes you anxious. But fuzziness is a reality of our life.
The UAH’s objective is to fight hatred in all forms. If solidarity is an act of imagination, hatred is an objective fact in our lives. Hatred separates people, it creates walls between them. Without dealing with the murkiness of hatred, you cannot achieve solidarity. And without solidarity, you cannot fight hatred either.
The UAH was fighting hatred through the act of solidarity and was crafting solidarity by fighting against hatred. This is not acceptable to the rulers of India of our times. They are creating fissures in the society, filling it with poison, they are busy demonising Muslims in the eyes of Hindus.
The UAH confidently stood against this vilification. It had to be destroyed. The Delhi police is, under the instructions of its political masters, fabricating a story of a conspiracy in which the members of the UAH were involved to dislodge this government. They want to disable this beautiful initiative.
The onslaught on the UAH has been severe. Saifi is in jail for the last eight months. Khalid is facing a media trial after the submission of the Delhi police’s supplementary chargesheet. He is quite used to the vilification by the rulers of the country and the media. You need to be Khalid to face it all and remain human. Khan and Saifi have been equally maligned by the Delhi police.
In the face of such a vicious attack, for the UAH to rise and be with the farmers has riled the ruling party and its propagandists. They want to portray this act of solidarity as a conspiracy. This conspiracy by the police and the political establishment needs to be called out, and we need to stand by the UAH in this moment.
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.