University Students Say Attack On Umar Khalid Was A Message For Them To Shut Up

Piyasree Dasgupta
Fahad Ahmad protesting at TISS.

NEW DELHI — There is a concerted effort to silence voices critical of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its politics in India, student leaders who have been protesting against right-wing intimidation told HuffPost India. The activists were responding to an attack on former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid earlier this week in New Delhi.

Hours after the incident, a number of people, including some journalists, had questioned on social networks whether the attack had taken place at all. Others went a step further to suggest that the assailant, who had a gun, shouldn't have missed his target. Khalid, who submitted his PhD thesis to JNU earlier this month, is not new to the vitriol. He has been at the receiving end of a stream of abuse on social media for more than two years.

The Delhi Police, who found CCTV footage of the fleeing attacker, have confirmed that the attack was not staged, though they were not sure if Khalid was being targeted. Two men have claimed responsibility for the attack in a video doing the rounds of WhatsApp. HuffPost India couldn't independently establish the veracity of the video.

While the attacker's identity and motive are still unknown, the students who spoke to HuffPost India said that it had only been a matter of time before the combination of political persecution and social media hatred emboldened someone to take an extreme step. They pointed to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh last year by people associated with Hindutva organisations as evidence of this.

Across campuses in India, students critical of the ruling party's politics are witnessing a strong pushback from the government, university administrations and state machineries. In 2017, student activist Pooja Shukla was thrown into jail for 26 days for waving a black flag at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath when he visited Lucknow University. Shukla later joined the Samajwadi Party as a full-time political activist and has been at...

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