Guest Post by Pallavi Paul
My name is Pallavi Paul and like you I am a PhD student at JNU.
I write this letter to apologize to you. What thoughts must be crossing your mind and that of your family, friends and comrades- as bloodthirsty, jingoist goons are on a shameless head hunt for you and your friends. I apologize to you for the poverty of imagination of a state that brands you as anti-national, while continues to trample on the rights and bodies of those living within its borders from Pulwama to New Delhi to Hyderabad. I apologize to you that you find yourself in a society where to echo the feelings of thousands of Kashmiris, to think of yourself as first devoted to the idea of justice before any arbitrary construct of the nation, to be moved by suffering, to critique capital punishment – is considered an act of terrorism. In a beautiful post on Facebook your sister lovingly called you a “communist paagal”. I apologize to you that this current oppressive climate is too cramped for your magical madness. The imagination of a beautiful world which has place not only for sangh certified, brahminically privileged, self- affirming ‘Indian-ness’, but for everyone who has found themselves left outside of this fold- the landless, the stateless, those without the protections of caste, class, religion, gender or nation.
What a wonderful name you chose for the event on the 9th of February – Country Without A Post Office. After, one of Agha Shahid Ali’s most haunting works, which references a time in the 1990s when no letters were delivered to Kashmir. There was no way for people to talk to or hear one another. You chose to think about the punishment accorded to Afsal Guru, along with this history. Your efforts to create a conversation, a debate on what it means to take a human life, is today being branded as evidence of your anti-nationalism. I apologize to you for the amnesia and the fragile ego of this country, which is unable to revisit its history without a shred of doubt or criticality. Where the only way to serve the cause of the country is by mouthing its praises and letting it rot in its own status quo and not by bringing to it newer questions, possibilities and challenges.
Many television channels like Times Now, News X, Zee have been ruthless and vicious in trying to establish links between you and terrorist organizations like the Jaish- e- Mohammad. I am sorry that you are living in a country where your name makes it so easy for this connection to be made. While comrade Kanhaiya is still in Police Custody fighting the preposterous charge of sedition, even as I write this to you- he has at the very minimum the assurance that he will not be linked to an Islamist Terrorist Organization. You, dear Umar do not even have that. Even that you are a self proclaimed atheist is not guarantee against prejudiced links being made between the religion you were born into and your political beliefs. That you made a choice outside of religion and the various forms of violence that its fundamentalist interpretations throw up, has been drowned in the noise being whipped up by vigilante, self proclaimed ‘nationalists’.
Like every storm this too will pass. The arrogance of this regime will be its undoing. Today there is a report in the Hindu, where the Central Government has denied receiving any report linking you to terrorist outfits. It is being widely shared on social media with the hashtag #weareumarkhalid. We know that your social media account has been hacked , but be assured that many voices are also rising in your support. I do not know when or whether you will be able to read this letter, but I hope that whenever we meet we will be able to celebrate freedom, justice and the spirit of critique. The seasons will change and the breeze will blow more merrily.
Take care of yourself dear comrade, the struggle is on.
Pallavi Paul is a filmmaker and a PhD candidate at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.