Umar Khalid, My Son

 ‘Umar is my son.’, I want to say. I have never met him. I do not know him. And yet, I want to claim him as my son. I do not have a son. All I have is a daughter. A daughter  fast approaching the age when young minds come into their own.  Omar is past that age. He is already an independent, autonomous mind. And  a heart bleeding for the oppressed of the earth, burning with rage for injustices against them, crying for  justice for them.

Umar is the son every parent should desire and be proud of. Because he is one who can disagree , who can have the courage to rebel against his parents, who can break free from the cage of identity his family or community or religion has built for him. Who can prove his humanity by transcending the boundaries others fear to cross.

For is not Umar what  youth should be? How unfortunate would be a  nation which has only obedient , conformist minds as its young! A youth who fight only  for placements  with fat pay packets. Who are ready to  turn into cogs and wheels of the machinery, which turns profit for a few and crushes under it the vast humanity. It is this lot, which has exchanged its soul for comfort, which is clicking away its nationalism on Face book and Twitter. It is this horde, which is angry with Umar that he refused to join them.

Do not get me wrong. I do not want him for his politics or his ideology. He would differ with me violently, sneer at my revisionist views and laugh at my liberal hope from democracy. He, I am told is an ultra-Maoist. I am a renegade communist. A  former card holder of a parliamentary party which, in his eyes, is communist only in its name.

I would accept him for his eternal rebellion. To rebel is to affirm one’s humanity. But a rebel is also one who renews humanity. Who saves it from rusting.

“What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.” says Albert Camus.

A rebel is one who is angry but not resentful, who does not suffer from a feeling of personal deprivation. Resentment breeds envy, envy for something he thinks others possess and he lacks. Envy and resentment are not the emotions of a rebel, pain and suffering is.  A rebel has the ability to identify with ‘others’, he is moved by their suffering and suffers for them.  He swims across rivers of tears and magnifies his cross. But he is not bitter because he is not selfish, he is not motivated by  a feeling of personal deprivation.

Umar is Umar by name but not a Muslim. His father and family are practicing Muslims. His father was once a member of SIMI. But Umar chose not to take the path of  his father. A politics which thinks only for Muslims is not for him. Breaking away from his family, he turned an atheist and an ultra-Maoist. He even resigned from his organisation for its insensitivity to the questions of gender and Dalits. He comes out as a person constantly moving leftwards.

Left is then an elusive idea and an unachievable end. Umar is in pursuit of this idea. I would not stop him, for this search may produce something which is new, which we have not been able to create. This quest is valuable for us as it is not constrained by ‘historical expediency’.

The yes of a rebel is informed by love, love for those he does not know personally, his love for the wronged, the persecuted, ones who are on the wrong side of history.

Camus calls it a strange love. It is not calculative. It is an unsuspecting love. A rebel who is full of such love does not care for his future. Philosophers say that only human beings can dream of a future. But a rebel does not plan and live for his future. He gives everything for the present, for the living men.  Camus concludes his thesis on Rebellion by saying that we can show our ‘real generosity’ towards the future by giving everything to the present.

Umar could have migrated to a safe future. He could have justified it by arguing that only by doing that would he be able to serve his politics better. But he chose vulnerability.

Umar sees himself a person without borders. He does not want to remain imprisoned by nationalities. He reminds me of Rachel Corrie, am American young woman who oceans away from home in Columbia,stood before an Israeli tank to save a Palestinian house from being bulldozed. She was acting against her national interest. She paid for it with her life. Israeli tank did not spare a citizen of its ally nation. We need  Corries and Umars to sublimate our otherwise mundane, national existence even if we fear them.

Umar is back among his friends in JNU.  You can hear him, loud and clear. He is not a coward, he is courageous enough to face this enraged nation. Question is, can we see him,eye to eye,, we who have seen him vilified and lynched in the cyber space for the last ten days?

It cannot be that we sing Bidrohi (The Rebel) by Kaji Nazrul Islam and shy away from Umar. Umar, Kanhaiya and their friends who must pay with their blood for  Indian ‘patriotism’ to survive. If we are true to our calling, we must declare them  our own.

Woe to a country which does not stand by its Umars and Kanahiyas. Which cannot bear being challenged  by them. Which  punishes them for raising their questions.

Let us not sacrifice our Umars. Let us not distance ourselves from them. Let us not murder our children.

( First published by The Indian Express on 23 February,2016)

17 thoughts on “Umar Khalid, My Son

  1. Excellent article. One of the things a crisis in our consciousness, both individual and collective, does is to bring out the best in us, even if that best is only seen in glimpses and does not eventually prevail. Your writings, both this and the one on Ram and Bharat Mata are among the best I have read in a long time. Thank you for re-stating passionately what we stand for.

  2. Mukul Dube

    “Umar sees himself a person with borders. He does not want to remain imprisoned by nationalities.” Or as a person /without/ borders?

      1. Alam

        ‘हिंदुतवा फ़ासीवाद’ पर जो आपकी किताब है वो कहाँ मिलेगी?

    1. Anindya Sengupta

      Let me try to answer Mr. Shrikant Barve (though I fail to convince each time whenever I try to answer this). Not many Indians are convinced that Afzal Guru’s involvement in the attack of the parliament had been proved with conviction enough, though it was proved that he was a militant. That a man is a militant cannot be reason enough to murder him, one needs evidence enough which will prove his involvement in a heinous crime. Then you should return the body to the family. When this is not done after hanging someone to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation it becomes a bad instance – now the state can similarly hang people though they might not be convincingly proven guilty. Therefore the program; it might also be supported by people who are against capital punishment altogether. Am I convincingly making a point? I doubt it.

      1. Anindya, we have to respect institutions unless we have really strong reasons or proof to question them.Every punishment by law is always to satisfy the collective conscience of the society. If you punish a thief for theft, it is for the same reason. Do not make it an exception for Afjal Guru’s case and do not make it an overriding reason as well. If you had been taking all the cases of all the people wrongly convicted in India (all means many), irrespective of religion, caste or creed, we would have empathised with your cause. But you pick one case of Afjal Guru and then you want people of believe that your intentions are noble. You probably think the people of this country are fool to believe your intentions.

        1. Aditya Nigam

          agrawalatul, Afzal’s case was exceptional even according to the SC – you should do some independent homework before jumping to give your opinion.

  3. alaka basu

    This is too painful to read. That is the problem with such honest and good writing – it stays with one longer than one can bear.

  4. “Umar is Umar by name but not a Muslim. His father and family are practicing Muslims. His father was once a member of SIMI. But Umar chose not to take the path of his father. A politics which thinks only for Muslims is not for him”.

    इन पंक्तियों से मुझे थोड़ी दिक्‍कत हो रही है। पहली पंक्ति में अगर ”Muslim” होता तो समझ में आता। बिना कोट्स के इसे लिखने से By Implication जो आशय उभर रहा है, वह घातक है। अगर उमर ‘practising Muslim’ होता, तब?

    पता नहीं, लेखक ने सायास ऐसा लिखा है या छपने की (काफिला और एक्‍सप्रेस दोनों जगह एक सा) दिक्‍कत है।

    1. Mohini

      I agree with the above comment. What if he was a ‘practising Muslim’? Its sad to conclude but probably if he was, his life would be in much graver danger.
      But even the statement : “A politics which thinks only for Muslims”, is betraying an opinion that goes against the overall import of this article, and hence comes across as jarring and very disappointing.
      To be clear, Umar’s father resigned from SIMI, just like Umar resigned from his organisation, as mentioned in the article. In his father’s own words – “I left SIMI in 1985, before my son Umar Khalid was born, and when there was not a single case against any individual in SIMI or the organisation. SIMI was banned in 2001.”
      But tell me Apoorvanand ji, and I’m sure you know this answer better than many others, how many Muslims in India are even given the space to think for others, speak for others, when they are not even allowed to speak for themselves? No matter what expertise a muslim would hold in a particular matter, he is only allowed to speak as a ‘spokesperson for his community’, as if his individual opinion on a matter, as a citizen, as an academic, as a politician, does not even count. If only I could even count on my fingers, the number of times that a muslim has been invited to a panel discussion on TV to talk about any issue that does not take his ‘muslimness’ into account.

  5. Dear Apoorv, I appreciate the way you have honoured Umar by claiming him to be your son. But I would have been more happy and proud if this article would have been about Captain Tushar Mahajan or Lans Naik Hanuman Thappa. If you would have said that you would be proud to have a son who would happily sacrifice his life for this nation instead of someone who, on the name of “right of expression” or “being a rebel” glorify a so called terrorist. I won’t be shocked if I someday read an article where Kasab is glorified or appreciated for his attempts to destroy our nation’s pride. I don’t have a child. I am not even married. But definitely, I would love to marry a soldier and would want my son / daughter to be like those who do something for there country not against it. Please don’t get me wrong. Even I am a rebel by nature. My parents sometime get pissed off due to my nature as I do things which sometimes they don’t approve of. But I know they won’t call me there daughter if someday I will shout that I want my country to be destroyed. I am sad that how can you call him your son. A son, who would have lost his father in Pathankot and a father who would have lost his son in Kashmir would be sad too, because we have people like you.

    1. Apoorvanand could get an opportunity to publish his blog by being a contrarian (or may be conformist for this site). I do not not even understand how does the site actually reach out to such bloggers.

  6. Mukul Dube

    I was waiting for someone who hasn’t even begun to understand the article to pop up with the usual question: “Why carrots and not pumpkins?”

  7. Sanjay Tyagi

    Wonderful article. The author is brave like his subject. If a few few more stand with them the mass hysteria will dissipate.

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