A day after an unidentified man attacked and tried to shoot Jawaharlal Nehru University PhD student Umar Khalid outside Constitution Club near Parliament, Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik ordered the case to be investigated by the Special Cell, reported The Indian Express (IE).
On Monday, an unidentified man knocked Khalid to the ground and tried to shoot him from point blank range. Fortunately for Khalid, the pistol jammed and no shots were fired.
The incident happened outside Constitution Club near Parliament, where security has been stepped up for Independence Day. The assailant had managed to walk around with his pistol, dodging three layers of tight security in place ahead of Independence Day.
He also managed to flee despite heavy police deployment, just 600 metres away, for a state BJP event.
The Delhi Police on Tuesday morning released a footage of a man suspected to have shot at JNU student leader Umar Khalid.
The suspect fleeing the spot on a CCTV camera installed at Vitthalbhai Patel Road in Delhi, reported ANI.
After the incident, Police said the JNU student leader escaped after a scuffle with the assailant, who fled after his weapon “jammed”. Police have also recovered CCTV footage of the attacker from a camera installed at the RBI building across the road and said he had dropped the gun as he escaped.
Khalid was at Constitution Club to attend an event, ‘Khauf se Azadi: Towards Freedom Without Fear’, organised by an NGO, United Against Hate. He was attacked just before the programme was to start at around 2.30 pm when he stepped out of the Constitution Club for tea with three friends.
“I was returning after tea with my friends and just outside the gate, a hefty man pounced on me. He grabbed my neck from behind with his arms, punched me and threw me to the ground. I noticed immediately that he had a gun in his hand and I got scared. I held his hand with the gun and tried to move it aside,” said Khalid, whose shirt was covered in mud, after the incident, reported The Indian Express (IE).
“My friends tried to overpower him. He then got scared and started running away. After he had travelled a distance, he fired with the gun. I heard the sound. After that, I just ran and came inside. He didn’t say anything to me, he was just hitting. This has happened outside the Constitution Club, just two days before Independence Day,” he said.
The attacker dropped the weapon and fled the spot, police and eyewitnesses said. Police sources said they had seized the weapon.
Joint Commissioner of Police (New Delhi range) Ajay Chaudhary said: “A preliminary investigation has revealed that it was a loaded gun, but a bullet is stuck. The crime scene is being searched for the bullet cap as Khalid in his statement has said shots were fired.”
Incidentally, Khalid had sought police protection two months ago saying there was a “danger to his life”. Police sources said they had tried to approach him about the complaint on several occasions and that he was unavailable. Khalid was to meet police about security on Tuesday.
Police sources said that the gun found outside Constitution Club appeared to be a 7.65 mm country-made pistol and that it had been sent to the FSL to determine if it had been fired. “The pistol recovered from the spot is an old one and is rusted and jammed. We have also recovered all the six live cartridges and sent it to Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL),” said DCP (New Delhi) Madhur Verma.
Incidentally, pistols of same calibre – 7.65 mm – were used in murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh, Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, Leftist thinker Govind Pansare and Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar.
A case was registered under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC and sections of the Arms Act at the Parliament Street police station.
According to shopkeepers outside the Constitution Club, they also heard a loud sound. Rajesh Kumar, who has owned a shop for 35 years at the spot, said, “We didn’t see anything but we heard a loud bang sound. Initially, we thought a tyre had burst,” he said.
The seminar at Constitution Club Monday was organised against incidents of lynching and hate crimes across the country. According to the organiser Nadeem Khan, the motive behind the conference was to hear the voices of those who have suffered in such cases and also release an annual report.
Khalid said: “It is very difficult for me to say who could be behind the attack, but I want to say one thing — a misinformation campaign has been spread against me in the last two years. Baseless things have been said about me to such an extent in the media, that people have started believing that people like me should be killed. It is ironic that this incident happened to me when I was here for a programme against lynching.”
Khalid, along with former JNU students union president Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya, was arrested on sedition charges in 2016 in connection with the February 9 event on the JNU campus. The event, organised to protest the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, was at the centre of a storm then after allegations that students had raised anti-India slogans. No chargesheet has been filed in the sedition case as of now and all three are on bail.
After attack, hate campaign against Khalid
A number of trolls on Twitter and Facebook peddled theories on how the attack was ‘staged’ to gain sympathy in favour of the ‘Tukde Tukde gang’, a term used for those who they judge ‘anti-national’.
These included BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who tweeted:
“An unidentified man ‘tries’ to attack Umar Khalid but abruptly terminates his attack plan and runs away.
And guess what- he leaves his pistol at the spot.
Nice try tukde tukde gang, but unfortunately your script lacks substance and thus, will be outrightly rejected.”
Khalid blames hate campaign based on falsehoods
Khalid said on Tuesday that “having seen the assassinations of one activist after the other in the last few years” in the country, he knew that “someday a gun may be turned” against him too.
In a statement released the day after he was shot at outside the Constitution Club in New Delhi by an unidentified man, he said “two days before 15th August, the question also is what does ‘freedom’ even mean if the citizens of this country have to be ready to die for their ‘crime’ of just being vocal against injustice?”.
What was most paradoxical was that he had gone to attend an event named “Freedom from Fear” when the attack happened, he said.
“The fact that two days before Independence Day, in one of the most high security zones of the national capital, an armed assailant could dare to attack me in broad daylight only goes onto show the brazen impunity that some people feel they enjoy under the present regime,” he said.
In a tweet targeted at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said he had a suggestion for the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech: “Can you guarantee that there will be no attack on those who criticise your government and its many failures?”
Khalid said the real culprit for the attack on him was not the unidentified gunman but those who, from their seats of power, have been breeding an atmosphere of hatred, bloodlust and fear. “The real culprits are those who have provided an atmosphere of complete impunity for assassins and mob lynchers. The real culprits are those spokespersons of the ruling party and the prime time anchors and TV channels who have spread canards about me, branded me anti-national based on lies and virtually incited a lynch-mob against me. This has specifically made my life extremely vulnerable.”
He said a hate campaign against him has been going on for last two years. “There is no evidence, only lies. There has been no charge sheet, only media trial. If they believe that with attacks like this they are going to scare us into silence, then they are gravely mistaken,” he wrote.
He appealed to the Delhi Police to provide him with security as there was a “continuous threat” to his life. “In the last two years, I have demanded police protection twice from the Delhi Police, but only to be met with a callous response. I have been given death threats several times in the past and receive several threats and inciteful messages everyday on social media. After yesterday’s incident, what is the Delhi Police waiting for?” he said.
Meanwhile, Khalid’s fellow JNU student Shehla Rashid Shora on Tuesday filed a case in Srinagar against mafia don Ravi Pujari for threatening her — on a day when JNU student leader Umar Khalid was attacked in Delhi.