Umar Khalid, my son

Because to rebel is to affirm and renew one’s humanity.

Written by Apoorvanand | Updated: February 23, 2016 3:46 pm
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“Umar is my son,” I want to say. I have never met him. I do not know him. And yet, I want to claim him as my son. I do not have a son.

All I have is a daughter. A daughter fast approaching the age when young minds come into their own. Umar Khalid is past that age. He is already an independent, autonomous mind. And a heart bleeding for the oppressed of the earth, burning with rage for injustices against them, crying for justice for them.

Umar is the son every parent should desire and be proud of. Because he is one who can disagree, who can have the courage to rebel against his parents, who can break free from the cage of identity his family or community or religion has built for him — one who can prove his humanity by transcending the boundaries others fear to cross.

For if not Umar, what should youth be? How unfortunate would be a nation which has only obedient, conformist minds as its youth — youth who fight only for placements with fat pay packets; who are ready to turn into cogs and wheels of the machinery, which turns profit for a few and crushes the rest of humanity.

It is this lot, which has exchanged its soul for comfort, which is clicking away its nationalism on Facebook and Twitter. It is this horde, which is angry with Umar that he refused to join them.

Do not get me wrong. I do not want him for his politics or his ideology. He would differ with me violently, sneer at my revisionist views and laugh at my liberal hope from democracy. He, I am told, is an ultra-Maoist. I am a renegade communist. A former card-holder of a parliamentary party, which, in his eyes, is communist only in its name. I would accept him for his eternal rebellion. To rebel is to affirm one’s humanity. But a rebel is also one who renews humanity, who saves it from rusting.

“What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion,” said Albert Camus. A rebel is one who is angry but not resentful; one who does not suffer from a feeling of personal deprivation. Resentment breeds envy — envy for something he thinks others possess and he lacks. Envy and resentment are not the emotions of a rebel; pain and suffering are. A rebel has the ability to identify with “others”, he is moved by their suffering and suffers for them. He swims across the rivers of tears and magnifies his cross. But he is not bitter because he is not selfish, he is not motivated by a feeling of personal deprivation.

Umar is Umar by name but he is not a Muslim. His father and family are practising Muslims. His father was once a member of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). But Umar chose not to take the path of his father. A politics that thinks only for Muslims is not for him. Breaking away from his family, he turned an atheist and an ultra-Maoist. He even resigned from his organisation for its insensitivity towards the questions of gender and Dalits rights.

He comes across as a person constantly moving leftwards.

The left is, then, an elusive idea and an unachievable end. Umar is in pursuit of this idea. I would not stop him, for this search may produce something which is new, something which we have not been able to create. This quest is valuable for us as it is not constrained by historical

The “yes” of a rebel is informed by love, love for those he does not know personally, love for the wronged, the persecuted, ones who are on the wrong side of history. Camus calls it a strange love. It is not calculative. It is an unsuspecting love. A rebel who is full of such love does not care for his future. Philosophers say that only human beings can dream of a future. But a rebel does not plan and live for his future. He
gives everything for the present, for the living men. Camus concludes his thesis on rebellion by saying that we can show our “real generosity” towards the future by giving everything to the present.

Umar could have migrated to a safe future. He could have justified it by arguing that only by doing so would he be able to serve his politics better. But he chose vulnerability.

Umar sees himself as a person without borders. He does not want to remain imprisoned by nationalities. He reminds me of Rachel Corrie, a young woman from the US who, oceans away from her home in Columbia, stood before an Israeli tank to save a Palestinian house from being bulldozed. She was acting against her nation’s interest. She paid for it with her life. The Israeli tank did not spare a citizen of its ally nation. We need more Corries and Umars to sublimate our otherwise mundane, national existence even if we fear them.

Umar is back among his friends in JNU. You can hear him, loud and clear. He is not a coward; he is courageous enough to face this enraged nation. Question is, can we see him, eye to eye? We who have seen him vilified and lynched in cyberspace for the last 10 days?

It cannot be that we sing “Bidrohi (The Rebel)” by Kazi Nazrul Islam and shy away from Umar. Umar, Kanhaiya and their friends who must pay with their blood for Indian “patriotism” to survive. If we are true to our calling, we must declare them our own.

Woe to a country that does not stand by its Umars and Kanhaiyas, one which cannot bear being challenged by them, one which punishes them for raising their questions. Let us not sacrifice our Umars.

Let us not distance ourselves from them. Let us not murder our children.

The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University