Umar Khalid, My Student

He brought vibrancy to discussions — and gave me feedback I’ll never forget.

Written by Sangeeta Dasgupta | Updated: February 22, 2017 5:08 pm
umar khalid, jawaharlal nehru university, jnu, jnu row, umar khalid arrest, kanhaniya kumar, kanhaiya kumar arrest, jnu agitation, jnu sedition case, jnusu president sedition case, jnu news, india news, latest news JNU student Umar Khalid in JNU campus before his surrender (Source: Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

On February 9, till 1.20 pm, Umar was in my office. Anirban was presenting his chapter before a group of students undertaking PhD or MPhil research under my supervision. Umar was one of them. With rapt attention, he heard the presentation, contributed to the discussions, and we fixed a date for his presentation that was to follow. Little did I know as I hurried Umar out that day that things would change so dramatically for him, for me, and for all of us at JNU.

Watch Video | Delhi: Umar Khalid’s Event At Ramjas College Interrupted, AISA ABVP Clash

Within a few hours, that fateful meeting was held on Sabarmati lawns. And then, all hell broke loose. Umar was no longer just Umar, but Umar Khalid as TV channels repeatedly underlined: He was the “anti-national” who cried for the dismemberment of the country, an “Islamic terrorist” who was funded by international organisations, a “traitor” who had just returned from Pakistan. He was supposed to have “masterminded” the event at JNU. Every day, more followed: He was a “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser”, had been on the IB’s radar.

I Googled his name and found that he was said to have hailed from four states: J&K, UP, Bihar and Maharashtra. Here was a victim of a media trial, put in the dock because he was Muslim, condemned before his guilt had been proved, denounced as a terrorist for whom there was a hunt.

It is difficult to grasp the anguish of his family as they contemplate what the future holds for him.

Let me talk about Umar as my student, one of the brightest I have taught, and whose supervisor I have been for almost five years. Umar joined the MA programme at the Centre for Historical Studies in 2009.

What distinguished him was the intense expression in his eyes. As he focused on lectures and engaged in discussions, he seemed often to be thinking about something that went beyond just the lecture.

From him I received some of the most serious feedback on my course: My constant attempt to engage students in discussions, he felt, was sometimes intimidating for those who were not so articulate in English. A comment I have never forgotten.

Umar engaged with Adivasi history and politics with passion and commitment. He was awarded an A for a seminar paper he wrote on the politics of categorising Chhotanagpur as a “scheduled tract” in colonial times; he was also awarded an A for his MPhil dissertation on the Hos of Singhbhum. Through a study of the colonial state’s intervention in Singhbhum, Umar, in his dissertation, sought to question the simplistic opposition between the state and tribal societies. The object of his research was to reflect on contemporary society; understanding conflicts and struggles of the Adivasis in the past, he believed, would help him understand Adivasi societies in the present.

His deep empathy for the marginalised would constantly emerge in the course of discussions. His PhD proposal extends the research focus to the present times, making his study even more socially relevant.

I always look forward to having Umar in student discussions for he brings into them a vibrancy. And a laugh. I remember how he grinned at his own ignorance when there was a discussion on Islamic jurisprudence. “Ma’am,” he laughed and said, “I know nothing of all of this.” I could not persuade him to apply for a year’s exchange programme at Yale. It was in India that his social and academic commitment lay. Once in a while, he would come to me with a sheepish grin, and I knew that he wanted a meagre contribution for an event he wanted to organise on a social issue.

Let me end by quoting from the acknowledgement section of his dissertation. For him, the “vision” that he shared with many of his friends was “to transform every… moment into a fight for the better”. Poignant thoughts that today exist only in a utopian world. There is nothing unconstitutional about these thoughts. Please. Do ask those of us who have shared the corridors of this university with Umar for so many years what kind of person he is. Or has the vicious din around “sedition” made our voices ever so redundant?

 

The writer is associate professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi

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First Published on: February 26, 2016 12:59 am
  1. N
    Naresh
    Mar 9, 2017 at 11:06 pm
    One thing is sure, this man is anti-national and in the meeting on Feb 9th 2016, he raised anti-India slogans.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; There is no justification of these actions.lt;br/gt;Any country in this world will not tolerate this
    Reply
    1. S
      sahir Rayees
      Feb 23, 2017 at 12:02 pm
      we r with u ...
      Reply
      1. V
        vineet
        Feb 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm
        Yes it's a construct, designed to further the interests of its citizens, in many cases even to the detriment of other nations' citizens. So when someone speaks against this construct without offering a better alternative, it works against my interests. Whether that was his intention or not is irrelevant.
        Reply
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          Anup
          Feb 26, 2016 at 5:00 am
          Professor, Unar is in custody not because he behaved badly in your cl. Amazing that you don't seem concerned that Anirban, student of your university is also changed with similar anti national activity. Thus your ertion that Umar is charged because of his religion is incorrect. For normal - that is those outside JNU - citizens of the country chanting anti national slogans is plain wrong, not some cutsie dissent
          Reply
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            Akshay Joshi
            Feb 26, 2016 at 8:46 am
            terrorists are never dumb. they can be clever with strong opinions as other intellectuals do. The only difference is the destructive mindset.
            Reply
            1. A
              Amit
              Feb 26, 2016 at 1:00 am
              I pay huge income taxes, and feel bitter when lazy Govt. teachers do such things. Wish I could kill the bas tards
              Reply
              1. A
                Amit
                Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                Reply
                1. A
                  Amit
                  Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                  Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Amit
                    Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                    Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Amit
                      Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                      Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Amit
                        Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                        Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          Amit
                          Feb 26, 2016 at 3:44 pm
                          Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            Amit
                            Feb 26, 2016 at 3:44 pm
                            Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work...
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              Amit
                              Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                              Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work....
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                Amit
                                Feb 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm
                                Rohith was not an SC/ST : Telangana Police has admitted to court. Media blacking out the news. Pressutes@work.......
                                Reply
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                                  Ashish
                                  Feb 26, 2016 at 12:50 pm
                                  He join in 2009 for Master's degree and still in cl of 2016. Wow what an intelligent boy!!!!
                                  Reply
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                                    Ashish
                                    Feb 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm
                                    Kanika, just to answer your question, am a post graduate, staying out of Country for last several years (close to Yale), still in deep love with my mother nation, feel proud of it and see how I can contribute to make it a better place to live. Please do no get personnel. You know better than me, this w issue is political.
                                    Reply
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                                      Aap
                                      Feb 26, 2016 at 2:44 pm
                                      People are looking for sensational news. So does the media. Least bothered about truth. The law is now; if you do not have political backing then you are guilty unless proven innocent.
                                      Reply
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                                        Arjun
                                        Feb 26, 2016 at 2:33 am
                                        I think its time with the advent of twitter, facebooks, messaging, technology communications that "free" in the free speech needs to be debated and defined. Is it free speech if I say vulgar things to a 25 year old girl in the market ? Is it free speech if I say negative about any religion ? Who defines vulgar and negative ? I think free speech is what society will tolerate. Beyond that it instigates violence, hate, hurt feelings and honestly the hurt party will somehow react. Now here societal law and even common legal law in many western nation - with valid witness and validations - defines instigator and reactor at equal fault. An instigator is defined as someone who says something in public knowing it will invite reaction. A reactor is someone who has no relation or past history with the instigator, but reacts in the pion of the moment bcoz of hurt feelings. That is how law is even in pacifist countries like Norway, Sweden, New Zealand etc
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                                          Arjun
                                          Feb 26, 2016 at 2:36 am
                                          Instigator and Reactor are at equal fault. Neither side should claim holier than thou.
                                          Reply
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                                            R Bhakta
                                            Feb 26, 2016 at 10:23 pm
                                            As long as students activities are restricted between students themselves or their faculty members, freedom of expression and exploration is tantamount. However, as soon as the activities enter the public domain, some sort of self restraint be comes desirable. Self restraint. In absence thereof, other means of enforcement become necessary..
                                            Reply
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