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'Imagine Living Behind a Lock and Someone Else Has the Key': Sabiha Khanum, Umar Khalid's Mother

Khalid is facing adversity with complete courage, his mother said while speaking at an event held to mark the completion of two years of the student activist's imprisonment.

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New Delhi: “Today marks the completion of two years since Umar’s arrest. That day, two years ago, has been playing out before my eyes since morning, over and over again. These two years that have passed have been totally different for me and those who have supported him, and for Umar – the difference is night and day.”

These are the words of Sabiha Khanum, mother of jailed JNU scholar Umar Khalid, speaking at an event in solidarity with the student activist held at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Tuesday, September 13 – to marks two years of Khalid’s imprisonment.

“I always ask Umar, during our weekly conversations, about the conditions inside (prison),” Khalid’s mother continued. “He has a small cell in which he lives. Just imagine what it would feel like for someone to live behind a lock for which the key is with someone else. You can imagine for yourselves how claustrophobic it must be; the kind of fear one must feel at the beginning (of his incarceration), and even now.”

“But Umar is facing all this adversity with complete courage,” Khanum said as the audience applauded. “We all know all the FIRs and legal aspects of the case. But I wanted to share with you all what our personal conversations are like.”

“I often ask him what he has eaten – although Umar’s friends all know that he has no interest in food and drink. But listening to what he ate and didn’t eat makes my heart heavy. Even when I met him in court a few months ago, I asked him what he ate, knowing that he doesn’t readily eat a lot,” she continued.

Also read: Umar Khalid On His Two Years In Jail: ‘I Feel Pessimistic At Times. And Also Lonely’

In September 2020, Delhi Police arrested Khalid under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on the charge of conspiring to engineer communal violence in Delhi during the visit to India of US President Donald Trump. Several scholars, activists and lawyers have been arrested in connection with the infamous FIR 59/2020, most of them Muslims. He was also charged with sedition and 18 other sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder and attempt to murder.

Ten days later and while still in custody, he was arrested again in another case related to the violence in and around Khajuri Khas, a Muslim-majority locality in the northeast region of Delhi.

Since then, Khalid’s case in particular and the Delhi police’s investigation of the riots as a whole have come under severe scrutiny from all corners – the courts, civil society, Opposition parties and more. Khalid himself, along with his lawyer, Trideep Pais, criticised the police for giving communal colour to what were secular protests.

Similarly, Khalid’s prolonged incarceration has also drawn criticism within and abroad India, from observers, and rights organisations alike.

Yet, after his eight-month-long fight to secure bail was denied in March this year, Khalid remains behind bars.