ABOUT ELEVEN YEARS AGO, in November 2008, students of Delhi University organised a seminar titled “Communalism, Fascism, Democracy Rhetoric and Reality” in Room Number 22 of the Faculty of Arts building. The talk was to be headed by Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, a Kashmiri Muslim professor who taught Arabic in the university.
There were few people in the country more suited to speak on the topic. Geelani had been sentenced to death in December 2002 by a court for his alleged role in the attack on the Indian parliament the previous year. A sordid media trial had declared him a terrorist even before the court’s verdict. But, in the course of the next three years, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court acquitted him of all charges. At the event, Geelani was going to relate his persecution at the hands of a repressive state machinery and its communalist rhetoric.
On a raised platform, behind a large desk sat the speakers—seated next to Geelani was a 21-year-old Umar Khalid, who would later come into limelight after he was charged with sedition during the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy, and the journalist Rajesh Ramachandran, currently the editor of The Tribune.