The Echo of Hearsay | Part One

How people and words were on trial at Umar Khalid’s bail hearing

In closely-watched bail hearings that were conducted online due to the pandemic and extended over eight months, the prosecution has referred to meetings, messages, speeches, phone conversations and testimonies by named and protected witnesses. ILLUSTRATION BY SHAGNIK CHAKRABORTY
18 May, 2022

On 24 March 2022, Delhi’s Karkardooma court ordered that Umar Khalid’s application for bail be dismissed. Khalid is a social activist and former student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University who actively participated in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the winter of 2019–20. The Delhi Police charged him and several others in connection to an alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence that broke out in the capital in February 2020. According to government estimates, 53 people died in the violence, 38 of whom were Muslim. More than five hundred people were injured. 

The Delhi Police arrested Khalid in September 2020, under FIR 59 of 2020, and charged him under several sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, including terrorist activity and conspiracy, as well as provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including murder, rioting, sedition, conspiracy and promoting communal enmity. Khalid was also formally arrested in October 2020 in a separate case, FIR 101/2020, but was granted bail in this case in April 2021. 

In his order denying bail in the FIR 59 case, the additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat wrote that he agreed with the defence counsel Trideep Pais “that there were some inconsistencies in the statements of some protected witnesses.” Nevertheless, after perusing the charge sheet and accompanying documents, he was of the opinion “that the allegations against Umar Khalid are prima facie true.” Khalid will remain in prison unless Rawat’s order is overturned. Along with his co-accused, he appealed for a review in the Delhi High Court.

For several days during the first week of February, Shuddhabrata Sengupta logged on to the online platform of the Karkardooma court to listen to the arguments being made by special public prosecutor Amit Prasad against the bail applications submitted by Umar and six other accused: Meeran Haider, Salim Khan, Salim Malik Munna, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam and Gulfisha Fatima. The following three-part series is an account of his experience of the trial.