Umar Khalid Arrested Under The UAPA: What It Means To Dissent In A Faux Democracy - Homegrown

Umar Khalid Arrested Under The UAPA: What It Means To Dissent In A Faux Democracy

Recently, former JNU student Umar Khalid was arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police for his alleged role in the riots that broke out in the north-east neighbourhoods of Delhi on February this year. Umar Khalid was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in another case related to the riots on April this year.

United Against Hate, the activist group Umar Khalid is associated with, said in a statement, “After 11 hours of interrogation, the Delhi Police Special Cell has arrested Umar Khalid as a conspirator in the Delhi Riots case. The fairy tale narrative that DP [Delhi Police] has been spinning and criminalising protests in the garb of investigating riots finds yet another victim.”

In separate charge sheets related to the riots, the police have said that Khalid met suspended and jailed Aam Aadmi Party’s councillor, Tahir Hussain and activist, Khalid Saifi on 8th January at the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest site against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)-National Register of Citizens (NRC) to allegedly plan the riots. He has been interrogated twice in the last two months for his alleged role. The police have also linked Khalid’s speeches to the riots.


Protests against the anti-constitutional CAA and the NRC Acts led to widespread violence in parts of north-east Delhi from 23 to 26 February, leaving over 53 dead and hundreds injured. It was one of the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in seven decades.

The CAA & the NRC

The Citizenship Amendment Act passed in December fast-tracks the citizenship process for non-Muslims, who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh before December 31, 2014, making it a law that is discriminatory and unconstitutional as it leaves out the Muslims and links faith to citizenship in a secular country. If seen in the context of a proposed pan-India NRC, it is inevitable that it would result in detention of the Muslims in India who are unable to provide the necessary documentation to prove their citizenship. A process carried out in Assam to detect undocumented immigrants has already led to the exclusion of around two million people from the NRC in 2018.

What does Umar Khalid’s arrest mean for us?

Umar Khalid has been arrested for violation of the UAPA, a draconian law that defeats the very spirit of democracy.

The UAPA owes its origin to the colonial-era Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908, which gave the government unilateral power to ban any organisation (and people associated with them) they considered a threat to their sovereignty, without any judicial oversight. It was issued by the colonial government after the Partition of Bengal when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Minto was concerned about reports of violence. It is essentially an anti-terror law which penalises groups by labelling them either as “unlawful associations” or “terrorist organisations.”

On 08 July, the union home minister Amit Shah introduced an amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the Lok Sabha. One of the important changes to the law that the amendment made was that it allowed the central government to label an individual a terrorist if it “believes” that is the case. The accused person shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, and might also be liable to a fine.

With the amendment to this already draconian law, the government has communicated a measure that serves to suppress freedom of speech in the country. The casual labelling of a person with the appellation of being a ‘terrorist’ is unreasonable and bizarre, to say the least. Besides, such radical measures hinge on creating an atmosphere of fear and suppression, which is an impediment to democracy, as well as a ‘blatant disregard for the constitutional compact between the state and a citizen’. This law opens a broader discussion around the meaning of the term, ‘terrorist’ and how the government of India is defining it according to its convenience, ‘treating Indians not as citizens of a democracy, but as if they are subjects of a police state.’ Therefore, the arrest of Umar Khalid on account of sedition is not a solitary incident and is just one in the long list of arrests made by the government.

It all began on 17 December 2019, when Assam-based RTI activist, Akhil Gogoi was charged with sedition, and therefore, booked under the UAPA. On 14th April 2020, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha faced arrest under UAPA by the National Investigative Agency. The wrongful arrests of 11 activists in the Bhima Koregaon criminal case are clearly linked to the government’s overarching agenda of spreading nationalist propaganda and suppressing dissent in all forms. FIRs relating to this violence have been selectively acted upon, such that the perpetrators of the violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (both associated with the RSS), are still scotfree, while persons unrelated to the event and not named in the FIRs have been arrested and incarcerated for 18-20 months without bail.

On 20 April 2020, Jammu & Kashmir police had booked Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old photojournalist from the valley, under Section 13 of UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code. On the same date, Delhi Police booked Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar under the UAPA, in a case related to North East Delhi riots that took place in February.

On 26 April 2020, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, the President of Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association and a member of Jamia Coordination Committee was again booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged involvement in the North-East Delhi riots and was subsequently arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. Delhi Police went to AISA’s Delhi President Kawalpreet Kaur’s House on 27 April and seized her mobile phone in the name of enquiry into the Delhi communal violence. The seizure memo provided to her also cites an FIR with a slew of charges including the draconian UAPA.

It can probably be opined that the country is fast moving towards far-right authoritarianism, with the government implementing laws like the UAPA and the NSA for suppressing dissent whilst strategically inciting violence by siding with the perpetrators. As part of a larger pattern, the arrest of Umar Khalid is proof of the deepening crevice of mistrust and suppression that India is battling each passing day.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you also read:

Time’s Up For Colonial-Era Policing: Rethinking India’s Police & Public Safety

Right To Criticise The Govt Is A Fundamental Right And Not A Seditious Act: SC Judge

Prisoners Of Conscience: India’s Gruelling Trajectory Against Dissent

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