Prof Iqbal Ansari, the one man army of documentation of facts related to issues of Muslims in India passed away on October 13th in his home town of Aligarh, where he grew up and developed a vast treasure of friends working on human rights all over the country. Even those who might have disagreed with some of his over emphasized and simplistic observations, would not disagree with a fact that he was overwhelming concerned about the growing animosity on the Hindu-Muslim unity, a subject which was very dear to him and brought him constant touch with country’s respected human rights activists, peace activists for India-Pakistan friendship as well as all those who were deeply concerned of the growth of the Hindu fundamentalism in India as a counter to Islamic fundamentalism growing elsewhere.
Professor Ansari was a teacher in Aligarh Muslim University and many of his students might not even thought of him developing such vast network of individuals working on human rights all over the world. Despite a regular to various human rights forums and meetings in Delhi, he never left his roots from Aligarh. Very rare would you find a man, in the human rights circles in India, who had such a vast knowledge of human rights system in India and world over. He was well acquaint to international treaties, conventions and covenants and tried to minutely observe different laws in India which used to be discriminatory. Whether it was TADA or POTA, Gujarat or Maharashtra Riots, Babari demolition and aftermath, or Kashmir, Prof Ansari was every where. He did not really need an organization. In fact much time, I realize that for doing his work, he was singlehandedly perusing things with all efforts. He was a prolific writer particularly writing lengthy notes, letters on the issues of communal situation in India, edited various volumes and magazines, got published every where as he would respond immediately to an issue. That he was determined to respond to a subject with great alacrity and absolute Understanding.
While I disagreed with many things that he wrote which I perceived to be a mere response to counter VHP-RSS propaganda and to some extent typical Hindu upper caste responses of ‘ Hindu Muslim unity’, a fad which we have seen and has failed in india without addressing the issue with in the Muslim community too and seeking their advice, yet the point I admired in him was his never ending spirit of fighting against what he felt to be injustice being done to minorities in a secular democratic state of India. He would visit places, attend seminars and speak for hours without wanting to be disturbed, unless told to stop yet none of his bitterest critique would ever point out a finger at his quality and depth of understanding the situation.
Two big volumes that he edited for Minorities for Institute of objective studies reflect his vision and fighting against the propaganda of Hindutva through credible evidence of human rights violation and involving leading human rights luminaries like Justice V.M.Tarkunde, Rajni Kothari, Amreek Singh, Dr R.M.Pal, Y.P.Chhibor, Kuldeep Naiyar and Justice Rajendra Sachar. It is interesting to see that the publication that he was editing for Institute of Objective Studies, known as Human Rights Watch was like a one man show. He requested, republished articles from all these leading luminaries, asked them to write for volumes her produce and involved them in the initiative of the Institute of Objective Studies, for securing and protecting the minority rights particularly of the Muslims in India.
‘Reading on Minorities’ of which three volumes are already out and now we are waiting for his fourth volume on the issue being published by Institute of Objective Studies. One can only say that he did work very hard to bring these issues and was dedicated to place an evidence based fact finding report. Though they were too large and some time he did place his personal communications with different departments and ministries in these volumes yet none would ever question his zeal to work for the community and its common cause with a greater secular society. He was not comfortable with Muslim issues being discussed in isolated. In fact long back at a seminar in Aligarh he talked about bringing together he talked about a common platform for the Dalits irrespective of their religion so that their issues could be fought with more vigorously.
The disgraceful destruction of Babari Mosque had created a scar in the psyche of the modern nation and it revealed the true forces of the brahmanical supremacy. Many among the Muslims were talking of avenging things, but Ansari was always for rapprochement between the communities. He worked with Gandhian tirelessly particularly likes Late Nirmala Deshpande though we all know that at the height of Ayodhya tragedy their role had not been proactive. At the time when the Muslim intellectuals were quite sidelined and in their own ghettoes, Ansari reached beyond Islamic world and placed his point of view among the secular intelligentsia. That was his biggest forte. He was not an organizational man and that is why even the journal that he edited many time put his own stamp on the entire issue. He wanted to see things from a particular angle and would convert an article into a letter. He opened channels with those dissenters who were despised by the mainstream Muslim intelligentsia and did not shy away defending Taslima’s right to speak and condemning her vilification of Islam. wrote articles on Hindu Muslim unity.
A highly read person Prof Ansari would be missed in the human rights circle a lot. His efforts to network with different communities, his attempt to develop a ‘ Minority Council of India,’ his active involvement with social movements particularly related to Muslims and their mainstreaming in India, his various books, publications, will remind us his tireless efforts to work for the human rights in India. He has been a member of humanist movement in India, though writing from a religious angle, once upon a time he claimed he can be a humanist despite being a Muslim. The point, I want to make it, is whether he believed or not in religion yet he believed in the principals of human rights and against discrimination and perhaps he felt that is the best practice of humanism rather then discussing whether God existed or not.
Every time, we met in a meeting or seminar, Prof Ansari would bring some volumes of his work, his letters and distribute and ask us to endorse. He would often ask us about minority council of India and how can we work together. Unfortunately, as I said some people have good intentions yet they remain essentially academic activists and their stamina and patience level is quite different than what is required to create an organized movement. I felt that particularly whenever the publications for IOS were tried and attempted. Yet, I would always say that whatever he wrote, it came from heart and of course, with best intents and full of thoughts and consideration of the national and international laws. He was a concerned man, a well equipped intellectual activists and in his death we are deprived of a person who worked for the communal harmony all over the country without caring for an award or reward. Dr Ansari’s work will always remain master pieces for those working on human rights. His various work on Communal riots in India ( published by institute of objective studies) is actually eye opener and contain lot of material for all of those who want to know what went wrong. The way he tore reports on police reform and suggested what could be done to make our police and paramilitary forces secular is the need of the hour. It is a daunting task that the representation of Muslims in India’s different sectors including securit
y forces and police need to be addressed by the government of India. One hope that the Institute of Objective Studies and various human rights bodies in India will acknowledge the great work done by Professor Ansari and carry forward the legacy created by him by fulfilling those task which he espoused for, particularly developing a secular society without compromising on the ethnic religious identities of the groups and communities. If India turns a tolerant society respecting traditions and sentiments of each other including that of the dissenters also, it would be the finest tribute to Professor Ansari.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat