April 2024

Free Umar Khalid!

For nearly four years, Umar Khalid, an outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's increasingly repressive regime, has been locked up in Tihar prison complex. Khalid, a leftist Muslim champion of democratic rights for national and religious minorities in India's prison house of peoples, was arrested in September 2020 for his prominent role in protesting against passage of the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Charged with sedition and violation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), he has been denied bail and faces lengthy incarceration if ultimately convicted. The Partisan Defense Committee has written the Indian Embassy demanding the immediate release of Khalid and the many other anti-Modi protesters and the dropping of all charges.

Khalid has been in the gunsights of Modi's Hindu-chauvinist BJP regime since emerging as a leftist student organizer at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a stronghold of the left. On 9 February 2016, Khalid joined other students for a campus demonstration on the third anniversary of the execution of Kashmiri nationalist Afzal Guru. Following the meeting, the BJP's student organization filed a complaint with the Delhi police alleging that demonstrators chanted "anti-national" slogans. Video footage of the event was splashed on national television, some of it blatantly doctored to portray the organizers and speakers as terrorist sympathizers and Pakistani agents. Police charged Khalid and four others with sedition. He was released on bail a few weeks later and was never tried.

Following passage of the CAA in 2019, road blockages and other protests erupted across India. The law, which would make it nearly impossible for Muslim migrants to become Indian citizens, was accompanied by a nationwide campaign to force primarily Muslims living in India to prove their citizenship. Two million were struck off the citizenship rolls—many sent to detention camps in existing jails.

Stoking brutal cop repression and Hindu-chauvinist mob terror, Modi condemned the protests as a "conspiracy against the country." On 24 February 2020, BJP thugs, abetted by the cops, stormed a Delhi protest with guns, swords, spears and stones. The rampage, which lasted days, engulfed any Muslim in sight—petrol-bombing shops, destroying cars, homes, mosques and madrasas. Some 53 people, two-thirds of them Muslim, were killed, and more than 500 injured. Over 2,600 protesters were arrested. Khalid and 16 other prominent activists were charged with conspiracy, sedition and murder, upgraded a month later to include offenses under UAPA.

In October 2022, a former Supreme Court judge, three retired high court judges, and a former federal home secretary examined the case against Khalid and found no evidence to support the charges. Nearly two years later, Khalid and many others remain behind bars without even a trial date set.

The state persecution of Khalid is not only directed against defenders of the besieged Muslims and other minorities but also intended to intimidate every worker, leftist and young person who aims to protest the autocratic Modi regime. It is in the interests of the workers movement internationally to champion the fight to free Khalid and all those arrested for protesting against the Modi government!

* * *

(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1181, 16 April 2024)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.