New Delhi–Arrested JNU scholar Umar Khalid’s sister says her brother has wrongly been branded an Islamist terrorist because the self-proclaimed Marxist has a habit of questioning everything, including the existence of God.
Khalid, facing the charge of sedition, surrendered before Delhi Police shortly after midnight and was taken into custody after five hours of questioning early Tuesday.
His family is less worried about their son now after he made a dramatic appearance at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus on Sunday night, days after he went into hiding following a police crackdown.
His sister, Kulsum Fatima, 25, a post-graduate in history from Ambedkar University, praised her ‘bhai’ – as she fondly calls Khalid – as a “good human being” who has done nothing wrong.
“He has always been a Marxist. He never believed in the Allah. Despite our family being very religious, he chose to be a non-believer, because he also questioned God,” Fatima told IANS in an interview at her south Delhi house in a dingy neighbourhood of Zakir Nagar.
She said the government was “scared” of people who question. “My brother and hundreds like him are questioning the state about the injustice being done, and the atrocities against Dalits and Muslims (in India). What is wrong with that,” she asked.
Recalling her childhood with her brother, Fatima said he used to have “sleepless nights” worrying about Dalits in the country.
“I wish I was as good as my brother,” said Fatima, alleging that she was threatened on social media soon after Khalid’s name surfaced on the television branding him a “terrorist” after a controversial February 9 event on Kashmir at Jawaharlal Nehru University campus where Khalid is pursuing his Ph.D. on life of tribals in Jharkhand – one of the impoverished tribal states of India.
Khalid and five other accused JNU students – Kanhaiya Kumar, Anant Prakash Narayan, Ashutosh Kumar, Rama Naga, Anirban Bhattacharya – have been alleged to have raised anti-national slogans at the meeting.
While Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of JNU Students Union, was arrested on February 12, three others are yet to surrender. They are believed to be inside the JNU campus and police have been barred from entering there.
Khalid’s father Illyaas, a former chief of banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), hesitates to speak too much about his son, who appeared on TV channels along with his colleagues as a new found hero of student protests in the country.
The father, however, said that his son was being “punished in media studios for having a Muslim name”.
Khalid shares his name with one of Islam’s early time warriors, Khalid Bin Walid – a companion of Prophet Muhammad – still remembered in the Islamic history for his military tactics and prowess.
But the similarity ends with the name only. Khalid is neither Islamic nor does he vouch for jihad.
His sister said that Khalid is her role model. “I wish I were as good and as sensitive towards real issues like him.”
She said that her brother has been branded “a traitor because his name is Umar Khalid and his ideology is extreme Left. Both things fit the profile.”
She said that the family was worried a lot when Khalid was absconding and is feels thankful that despite being branded as a terrorist he did not “go the Rohith Vemula way”. She referred to the research scholar at the Hyderabad University who committed suicide after being suspended from the varsity following a clash with a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
“We were scared when bhai was absconding. We weren’t scared of his arrest but we were scared of the allegations that has been put on him,” Fatima said.
“We feel safer now. At least we know he is alive.”