Her phone had been ringing intermittently the whole day, so when she responded to yet another call Friday evening, Sabeha said ‘salaam’ with an air of weariness. As she listened to the caller, her face initially showed no emotion at all, minutes before a wide smile took over.
Sabeha, mother of JNU student Umar Khalid, finished her short conversation and promptly started looking for her shoes; she had to rush to the university. The call was from her son, who was arrested on sedition charges February 24, and released on bail late Friday.
“The call came from his friend’s phone so I thought maybe he was calling to check on us. It was Umar, and he said amma,” she told her four daughters, barely able to contain her happiness.
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The youngest, 12-year-old Sarah, let out a shriek as the others explained that she was more excited about meeting JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar than her brother.
When Sabeha asked her son, “Azad ho gaye” (are you free now), he told her, “Nahin, abhi nahin, police ki gaadi mein hoon, (No, not yet, I am still in a police vehicle.)”
The court order, granting the bail pleas of Umar and fellow student Anirban Bhattacharya, was completely unexpected for the family. Umar’s father Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, who had to travel to Chennai for work, had not changed his schedule despite the hearing as the family had not expected a favourable order. “He will reach by Saturday morning,” Sabeha told Kulsum.
As her husband was not in town, she asked her brother to take them to JNU. The phone started ringing again, this time non-stop, with calls from relatives and family friends who wanted to know if Umar had returned home.
Sabeha admitted that though she was relieved at her son’s release from Tihar, she had some concerns about his safety. “Dar toh hai thoda sa (I am a little scared),” she said.
“He came home for the last time on January 10. He is very close to mother but he is busy, so he cannot come home very often,” said his sister Kulsum.
Rushing to meet her son, Sabeha packed two boxes of sweets for Umar, only to realise that they won’t be enough. “I have packed all the sweets we have but there will be thousands of students there, I doubt he will get any,” she said with a laugh.
Objecting to the way certain media reports had portrayed Umar, Kulsum said, “They write about him as if he is some kind of a loner. In fact, he keeps on having playful fights with us”. Her mother added, “They probably want to show that he comes from a broken home… when he is very close to us”.
Opening up her brother’s room, Kulsum said, “This used to be his room… we are still trying to get rid of his revolutionary stickers.” “He has taken all of his books, and some of mine, to JNU. Now, whenever he visits, I hide my books,” she said.
Eager to meet Kanhaiya and Umar and ‘Ban’, Sarah interrupted the conversation and asked her family members to hurry up, so that they could reach JNU in time.
Twenty minutes later, when the family finally stepped out, the scene outside their residence in Zakir Nagar could have been from any other day. Heeding to the call for the last prayer of the day, several men walked to the mosque.
Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, till two policemen, posted right outside Umar’s residence, stepped out of the shadows.
As she walked towards her uncle’s car, Kulsum said, “I am getting married in October… all these days, I had been wondering if Umarbhai would be able to attend my wedding.”