NEW DELHI -- Umar Khalid, the Jawaharlal Nehru PhD candidate, who went underground to avoid capture by the Delhi Police for allegedly organizing an event to mark the third anniversary of Afzal Guru's execution, has spoken out against the Modi government and those media outlets which have attacked him over the past week.
"My name is Umar Khalid but I am not a terrorist,” he said. "This fight is a fight for the university, it is a fight for all universities of this country, and it is a fight to determine what kind of society we will shape."
On Sunday night, Khalid resurfaced on the college campus with four other students, Anant Prakash Narayan, Ashutosh Kumar, Rama Naga, and Anirban Bhattacharya, who have also been slapped with sedition charges along with the JNU Students' Union president Kanhaiya Kumar.
They have been accused of raising "anti-national" slogans in support of Afzal Guru, who was convicted for planning the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Speaking to a gathering of students, Khalid slammed those media outlets which have portrayed him as a budding jihadist who has traveled to Pakistan, and has sympathies with the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organization.
"In the past few days, I have got to know things about myself which even I didn't know," Khalid said, as some students in the crowd chuckled. "I don't have a passport but I've come to know that I've gone twice to Pakistan."
"I laughed when I first saw it. If the Jaish-e-Mohammed finds out that I’m being linked with them, they may do a dharna in front of the RSS headquarters," said Khalid. "For the last seven years since I have done politics on this campus, I have never projected myself as a Muslim. For the first time in seven years, I have felt like a Muslim only in the past 10 days."
Railing against the "media trial," the 28-year-old said, "They have no shame, there is no disclaimer, no apology."
To quote Rohith Vemula, he said, "I was reduced by immediate identity."
Last week, Khalid's family members informed the media that neither was he religious nor did the JNU student possess a passport, which ruled out his travel to Pakistan.
"I knew that all of you would stand with me in thousands. But I started panicking when I heard the statements of my father and my sister. I have several sisters. When they wrote on social media, they received threats and messages of rapes and acid attacks," he said.
The "anti-national" slogans which were allegedly raised by the JNU students has triggered a nationwide debate on free speech, dissent, who has a monopoly over nationalism, what constitutes being an "anti-national," and when is it a crime.
“Our slogan was for the right to self-determination. We don’t agree with, nor did we raise, the other slogans that have been reported. When you’re trying to have a dialogue with the ‘Indian people’, in quotes, such slogans antagonize rather than create dialogue," Khalid said, Anandabazar Patrika reported.
"At the end, I want to say that I don’t believe in any nationalism. I dream of a world without nations or boundaries. It is up to us to create that world," he said.
Khalid also exhorted JNU students not to get intimidated by the government and the media.
"You have take tangled with the wrong university. Remember, we did not let Indira Gandhi enter after the Emergency," he said. "A university which does not allow dissent becomes a prison."
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