The Indian Social Institute (ISI) in Delhi’s picturesque Lodhi Road institutional area was bustling with the activities planned for the day. The day being a Sunday, several small and big meetings, consultations and deliberations on various socio-political, economic and educational issues were in full swing. In one of the rooms of the Institute’s multi-storied building, a discussion had ensued on the growing militarisation and violence in Chhattisgarh and other tribal populated states of India. It was a meeting of the Citizens’ Initiative for Peace, and among the participants were Justice (retd.) Rajendra Sachhar, Prof Manoranjan Mohanthy, Prof Randhir Kumar and others in addition to some younger activists like me.
When the discussion was on, a man who was in his late seventies entered the room distracting the participants’ attention for a while. He was short in height, even shorter with his temper, but when it came to his stature in terms of the work he had done and was doing, the knowledge he had gathered in his life and the commitment he had displayed over a period of three decades, he was probably taller than the tallest person in the world. There was hardly any person whom he had met who was not impressed with his work; I should say, work done almost single-handedly without any institutional support, and I was not an exception. As a senior activist and former journalist would have us believe, he was ‘a one man army of documentation of facts related to issues of Muslims in India’. Yes, you must have rightly guessed that the person I am talking about is none other than Professor Iqbal Ahmed Ansari. After greeting the participants of the meeting, he occupied a seat and the meeting was once again in full swing.
On Sunday, October 11, 2009, when I was sitting next to Prof Ansari in the meeting referred above, I had no clue that I would not be meeting him again. Two days after the meeting, October 13, he breathed his last. His untimely death left most of us bewildered. It was an irreparable loss for human and civil rights’ movements in India. Prof Ansai, who was always at the forefront of these movements spread throughout the country for over a span of three decades of his life, left this world following a heart attack.
My association with Prof Ansari is not very long and dates back to 2007 when I assisted him in organizing a consultation meeting entitled “Towards Riot & Terror Free India” organized by Inter Community Peace Initiative (ICPI) on February 11, 2007, here in Delhi. After that, I got the opportunity to interact with him on various occasions and issues, mostly through the phone and Internet. He was very prompt in his replies. Whatever I know about him is the result of my brief interactions with him and his work. It was clear to me that his commitment for the protection of civil liberties and the advancement of human rights in India was unmatched. He was passionately committed towards the cause.
One of the most visible civil liberties’ activists in India, Iqbal Ansari took up a variety issues, ranging from communalism, religious freedom and communal harmony to minority rights. A teacher of English literature, he had turned full time to a human rights’ activist, and along with other well-known civil libertarians like V M Tarkunde, Justice Rajendra Sachchar, he championed the protection of civil rights in India.
Born in 1935, Prof Ansari served as a teacher of English at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh, for 33 years and retired as a professor in 1995. He was the visiting professor at Centre for Federal Studies, Jamia Hamdard (2001-2003), and Jamia Millia Islamia (2003-2004), New Delhi. He was associated closely with several international and national human rights organizations in different capacities. He was a member of the Amnesty International, National Council member of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), vice president of Citizens for Democracy (CFD) and general secretary of Minorities’ Council. And towards the end of his life, he was active with us in Citizens’ Initiative for Peace, a newly formed group, which comprised of people like Justice Rajendra Sachchar, Prof Randhir Singh, Kuldip Naiyyar, Swami Agniwesh, Nandini Sunder and Kavita Srivastava.
He was a prolific writer and his writing used to appear in most of the national English dallies. Prof Ansari had written extensively on issues related to human rights, minorities & prevention and resolution of inter-community conflicts. His publications include Political Representation of Muslims in India (2006), Readings on Minorities: Perspectives and Documents, Vol. I & II (1996), Vol. III (2002), Vol. IV (2010, published after his death); Human Rights in India: Some Issues (1998); Communal Riots: The State and Law in India (1997); Muslim Situation in India (1989) and, Uses of English (1978). He was also the editor of the quarterly bulletin, Human Rights Today published from New Delhi.
He had travelled to almost every part of the country to intensify human rights movement and to expose the violation of human rights and the illegal activities of both the state and non-state perpetrators. It was Prof Anasri who took special interest and made constant efforts in matters relating to victims of communal violence, especially in Hashimpura and Maliana. His efforts resulted in the transfer of cases from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi. Moreover, he made a remarkable intervention in the form of a critical analysis of the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005.
One of the last contributions for the protection and advancement of civil liberties in India was his intervention in Justice (now retired) Markande Katju’s remarks on growing beards and donning the veil. He personally wrote to him and argued the matter.
Had he been alive today, we would have found him at the fore-front of the campaign for implementation of the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, and other struggles.
As Prof Anand Kumar, a close associate of Iqbal Saheb and professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, once wrote to me, “(H)is articles and books about the lack of implementation of the recommendations of a large number of enquiry committees and investigation commissions and the real face of our system in terms of representation of Muslims and the other marginal groups have been great intellectual contributions towards the task of inclusive and just nation building.
His inspiring memory will remain the guiding star for all of us who are engaged in promoting freedom and human rights for every citizen of India.”
In short, he was a selfless intellectual, tireless human rights’ defender and a great human being. It is a harsh reality that Prof Iqbal Ansari is no more among us, but his legacy in terms of his work and the struggles he undertook will continue to inspire us in our struggle for the establishment of a just and equitable world. Today, when there is an onslaught on human rights’ activists throughout the country and the violence against religious and ethnic minorities and marginalised sections is growing day by day, let us pledge to fight against all injustices without any fear. That will be our real tribute and homage to Iqbal Saheb.
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi-based civil rights activist and journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)