JNU history student Umar Khalid walked up to the administrative block on Sunday night, wearing the same striped sweater and shawl he wore before he went underground.
He was embraced at every step and greeted with slogans.
“If the Jaish-e-Mohammed knows that I’m being called their member, they may do a dharna in front of the RSS headquarters. I have never projected myself as a Muslim, never thought of myself as a Muslim…. On a lighter note, my name is Umar Khalid and I am not a terrorist,” he said.
Three All India Students’ Association (AISA) members – JNU Students’ Union general secretary Rama Naga and former office-bearers Ashutosh Yadav and Anant Narayan – went to Kaveri hostel and had a dinner of dal, roti and cottage cheese.
At 9.30pm, they arrived opposite the administrative block for a lecture by Prakash Ambedkar, a politician and B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson. Anirban Bhattacharya, clean-shaven and in a blue jacket, made it just before Ambedkar’s talk began at 9.45pm. Khalid reached half an hour later.
Close to midnight, several policemen in plainclothes could be spotted on the campus. At the gates were several uniformed policemen.
The police have been on the lookout for the five students after charging them with sedition for allegedly shouting anti-national slogans during an event on the campus on February 9. Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU Students’ Union president, has already been arrested on the sedition charge.
Late tonight, students’ union vice-president Shehla Rashid announced that the five students would surrender peacefully if the police came. “No violence,” Rashid added several times.
Khalid told a gathering of students: “No, I did not make any calls to Kashmir or the Gulf (as was reported by a section of the media)…. I know what my parents and sisters went through. I saw the filthy threats on my sister’s Facebook wall. They would say ‘Bharat Mata ki jai‘. It reminded me of how nuns were raped in Kandhamal by goons who said ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’.”
He added: “In 1947, we had a tryst with destiny, today our tryst is with reality. It is up to us who we stand with in this hour.”
Referring to the controversial February 9 event on the basis of which the six students, including Kanhaiya, have been charged with sedition, Khalid said: “Our slogan was for the right to self-determination. We don’t agree with, nor did we raise, the other slogans that have been reported. When you’re trying to have a dialogue with the ‘Indian people’, in quotes, such slogans antagonise rather than create dialogue.”
Khalid added: “At the end, I want to say that I don’t believe in any nationalism. I dream of a world without nations or boundaries. It is up to us to create that world.”
He was surrounded by students who hugged him as he walked away from the mike.
Bhattacharya or “Comrade Ban” addressed the crowd before Khalid did. “We were not afraid and are still not afraid today. We raised slogans for aazaadi and against Afzal Guru’s hanging. We don’t subscribe to nor chanted other slogans. We stopped those who raised those slogans,” Bhattacharya said.
It was reported that slogans calling for the Balkanisation of India and such as “Death to India” and “Long Live Pakistan” were raised at the February 9 event.
“But we understand the anger people feel after six decades of living under the jackboots and bayonets of the army,” Bhattacharya said. “I am saying this because I don’t fear. We’re saying that we live in a democracy and every day some part of democracy dies when we accept that 50 lakh people live under the occupation of 4 lakh troops.”
He explained: “B.R. Ambedkar, in his resignation speech from the cabinet, said ‘I don’t agree with the occupation of Kashmir’ and that there must be a plebiscite.”
B.R. Ambedkar had said in his resignation speech in 1951 that Jammu and Ladakh could be retained by India and a plebiscite could be held in the Kashmir valley.
“There are some of us who agreed with the (February 9) event, and some of us who didn’t. But every Left and Ambedkarite group here stands in support of the right to dissent. We will always stand together, no matter what,” Bhattacharya said.
He added: “We’ve been called masterminds. Masterminds of what? Exploding culture or detonating poetry? We are the masters of our own minds. Your masters in Nagpur and Jhandewalan (RSS offices) cannot dictate what our minds will say.”
He called upon the students to join a protest march for Rohith Vemula, the University of Hyderabad scholar who killed himself, on Tuesday. He said: “We accept your challenge and will walk out that gate on the 23rd. Against all your O.P. Sharmas, Vikram Chauhans and the RSS and the VHP and the Gau Raksha Samitis, JNU will always stand and JNU won’t stand alone.”
Former JNUSU president Ashutosh Kumar said that Left groups were present on February 9 to defend the freedom of expression even though they didn’t agree with the organisers.
“We were seeing the papers. We read about the barbarism in court and also about the support we got. When we took the auto from JNU, the autowallah called this campus ‘Pakistan’. We got strength from news of the rally on the 18th. I love campus politics and I can’t stay away from it,” he told this correspondent.
JNUSU general secretary Rama Naga said that it was Rohith Vemula that brought the Left groups together. “Yes, I was scared. I am the only person from my family to have come to Delhi. My parents too are scared. But we have to take the fight for justice for Rohith to the end. The culprits of Hyderabad and JNU must be brought to book.”
Former JNUSU vice-president Anant Narayan said it was the “mobocracy” that really riled them.
“We decided to come back and face prison if necessary. If our country has turned into a prison, where else will we go? The RSS’s nationalism can be scared of slogans. Our nationalism, of which peasants, women, Adivasis and Dalits are the custodians, is much stronger…. Yes, I am worried, especially for my college-going sister because the media trial has vilified us,” he told this correspondent.