Umar Khalid. Hopefully now if I have your attention, let me tell you that Umar is not the only name. Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Gulshan Fatima, Sharjeel Usmani, Safoora Jagrar, and Meeran Haider are some of them who were arrested in a politically motivated trial in the garb of the investigation of Delhi-riots. But why am I mentioning only these names and not many other activists, journalists and artists who have been targeted and jailed for participating in a peaceful protest? All of these were students perusing their higher studies. So am I impacted because I am identifying with them as students? No, my college ended 6 years ago, I am no student. Or is it that I am identifying with them because their age group matches mine? To some extent, yes, but I am well aware that these people have other things to do than representing a young crowd. Anyway, the youth of this country hasn’t got any representation in mainstream politics since ever. I am not here to discuss that either but I am really eager to tell you a small anecdote.
When I was in the third year of my engineering, we participated in a cultural dance competition but the competition got cancelled at the last moment because, in a fight between some students of two universities, a student died on our campus so our dean cancelled the whole event altogether. Understandable, right? But a month later our dean went ahead and called off all the cultural events that were going to take place in that calendar year. And none of us objected. In one seminar, one student asked him about this cancellation, he shut him down by saying, “if anyone is so eager to dance then he/she can come and dance at my desk”. And people laughed. None of us in that crowd of thousands future engineers raised any question about it. We all were well aware that a big chunk of our college fees was for these cultural festivals and it was our right to have them in an academic year but we stayed numb. We stayed silent because that was our political IQ then. To me then politics meant having a futile debate about Congress versus BJP. I wasn’t aware of the politics that happen every day in every system which neither includes any political party nor any politician. Politics of gender, politics of privilege and class, and caste and hierarchy. Although we had a subject called Humanities in one semester but who cared about that?
And when in December last year, Delhi Police made those students of Jamia parade with their hands up in their own campus, to me that felt utterly shameful as an Indian. No book, no novel, no film, told me this was wrong. But still raising voices against those images felt like national duty just like thousands of them who joined the protests which erupted all over the country. Organically I found myself in front of Gateway of India chanting Azaadi slogans against police brutality on students where this very person named Umar Khalid was delivering a speech. I could felt and act on that feeling with my limited awareness of social science. And the people I mentioned here, in the first line of this article, they are doing masters in that very subject. Natasha Narwal is a student of Ph.D. in Historical Studies, Davegyani is doing M. Phil in centre of woman’s studies and Sharjeel is doing PH.D. in Modern Indian History after graduating from IIT Bombay in Computer Science. These people have an understanding of these social systems along with the idealism of being a student. So how would they not be standing against this polarising law in a nationwide protest? Yes, they could arrange protests, they could organise people because they knew how to. They are studying this very thing. They knew the politics of it. So when I see some bright minds standing up against the system and they are getting slapped with extreme laws like UAPA, sedition, and NSA, then it impacts me too. Now when my mother advises me to not post anything political on Facebook under the fear of getting in trouble, her fears are certainly real. It hurts to acknowledge that. And if you say accusing these people with these laws is politics too and that’s why it is fair then by those measures, Osama Bin Laden was a politician only, not a terrorist. By those measures, there is no difference between a Narendra and an Afzal. By those measures, an Adityanatah and a Baghdadi sound similar to me. They all are doing politics only. So no matter which side you are on, this is going to bite you back and there will be a time when your last name or your religion will not save you in this drowning country. The worst part of this is that I wish that it does bite you back. Alas.