When former JNU student leader Umar Khalid was leaving his Zakir Nagar home on Sunday morning to be questioned by the Special Cell, his mother had a hunch he may be arrested. So she woke up his three sisters and made them say their goodbyes, and also asked Khalid to call his two other sisters in the US and UK.
On Sunday evening, after a day of questioning, Khalid was arrested under the stringent UAPA.
“In the US, it was the dead of the night, but I was hoping they would pick up and Umar would get to speak to them. One can’t be sure, but I had a feeling there was a high chance he would be arrested. We were both trying to give each other strength. I kept telling Umar, ‘darna nahi (don’t be scared)’, and he kept telling me, ‘Ammi aap ghabraiyega nahi (Ammi, don’t worry)’,” Khalid’s mother Sabiha Khanum (53) told The Indian Express at her residence Tuesday.
She said Delhi Police’s Special Cell had first sent summons on Friday, but were told Khalid is not in town. “When we received summons again the next day for him to appear on Sunday, it made me wonder what the urgency was. I had a feeling then that this could happen. As the clock kept ticking, I figured out something was wrong. We were calling (her husband) every hour to get updates,” said Khanum.
“I think the Delhi Police also knows that the people they are picking up have no role to play in the Delhi riots but they want to set a narrative. These arrests are being done to break the courage and the spirit of the anti-CAA protests and harass anybody who has dared to speak up against the government. If they feel they will succeed, they are mistaken,” she said with a faint smile.
Khanum said she finds Delhi Police’s claims and news reports of Khalid being connected to the Popular Front of India or SDPI “rubbish”. “There is absolutely no truth in this. He is very clear about his politics; we (his parents) even have ideological differences with him when he calls himself an atheist, but we are standing strong behind him. He has only ever wanted to help the disadvantaged and downtrodden. He’s a very soft-hearted man,” said Khanum.
Khalid’s youngest sister was 13 years old when he was first arrested for alleged sedition in February 2016 over an event in JNU. “That arrest formed the base for me. I became a lot more politically aware. Others in my class are not so aware. As a sister, I did think sometimes that Umar bhai should not be so politically active to be safe, but my parents always said, ‘Hum koi galat kaam thodi kar rahen hain (we’re not doing anything wrong)’,” said Sarah Fatima (17), who is now in class 11.
Both Fatima and Khanum said 2016 had shaken them since they weren’t prepared, but this arrest was different. “This time I was sad but not shocked. The government is going after anyone they consider anti-national. Umar bhai’s name and the religious identity associated with it is a big factor. Otherwise why is there no mention of Kapil Mishra anywhere in the FIRs or chargesheet?”
Khanum said the family had not shed a single tear since the recent arrest. “Umar is strong and we are being strong for him. Our extended relatives are crying but I haven’t become emotional. I’m consoling them. This is not the time,” she said.
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