A Quarter Century of Research and Advocacy Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (SEPTEMBER 14,2010)


A Quarter Century of Research and Advocacy

Early years:(L-R) Justice Rajinder Sachar, Prof. Tahir Mahmood and Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam at an IOS seminar in 1990

Founder-Chairman of Institute of Objective Studies, Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, reminisces about the journey of IOS through 25 eventful years of India’s history.

As we move towards the launch of year-long celebration of IOS Silver Jubilee (April 2011-2012) memories come gushing in like floods after torrential rains.

To begin the story at the beginning of the story, so to say, the day of launch of IOS on April 13, 1987 seems like only yesterday. Like many worthwhile projects, it started on an extremely modest scale in a tenement (a makeshift barsati) in Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin, New Delhi.

That excuse of a building, whose upper story was a contraption made of tin sheets and plyboards (our barsati) was called “Vateg Building”. I never thought it necessary to ask the makaan malik sahab why on earth had he chosen to give his property such unusual-sounding name.

I seldom had the time to satisfy such curiosities as to why was the building, part of which housed the most important project of my life, called what it was called. I had not got the time even to catch my breath. The pace of our work and expansion has not slackened over the years in any measurable degree even nearly 25 years later.

India was at the cusp of far-reaching changes when we started the Institute of Objective Studies. For the first time a young man was at the helm of the country’s affairs, giving it the buoyant national feeling the United States under John F. Kennedy’s presidency had. I often remembered President Kennedy’s remarks in his inaugural address: “The torch of light has been passed on to a new generation of Americans”.

I often changed “a new generation of Americans” to “a new generation of Indians”. Rajiv, the man leading the country at the moment, was my generation. That showed the people born around 1947 had come of age, and were assuming greater responsibilities. Tragically, the Kennedy analogy turned out to be too literal as our man was felled by an assassin, like Kennedy.

Rajiv had begun on a rather awkward note, commenting on the anti-Sikh riots that followed his mother’s assassination that “the earth shakes when a large tree is felled”.

This was rightly taken as a sign of immaturity and insensitivity to the sufferings of the noble Sikh community. However, he quickly matured and put the country on the course of economic, technological and social progress, steps which have led to our present pre-eminence in quite a few areas. On his way, however, faltered every now and then. One of the mis-steps was getting the locks of Babri Masjid opened. That ended in the disaster of December 6, 1992.

Towards the end of 1985 I had become quite sure that I was going to give up my lucrative job in Saudi Arabia and relocate in India, uprooting my family, which had settled comfortably over the decade in the prosperous country.

My friends did everything to dissuade me from coming back to India. At that point in time the Saudi per capita income was 20 times higher than India’s, and salaries and perks were commensurately high. Wives and children used to a superior infrastructure, higher standard of living and creature comforts did not usually relish the idea of getting back to the homeland’s daily struggles.

However, I was lucky in that my wife and children did cheerfully look foreward to coming home and its relatively less easy life. I was not swayed by prospective difficulties because I thought all of us had to pay back to the country where we were born and raised. Also, we had the feeling that Muslims needed to be allowed to participate more meaningfully and fruitfully in India’s accelerating race for development.

When the Institute was opened here, the mood in India was upbeat. Rajiv was the first prime minister who had no experience of dealing with the white West as a son of a colonised country. He was still in primary school when the country became free, and in his subsequent years he saw the British (and Americans) as equals, not as former colonial lords and imperial masters.

That was vital for the country as a whole, and particularly so for me, as I opened my eyes in a free India. The only point of debate for us was how to make freedom and development equal and inclusive for the excluded-Muslims, Dalits, tribals, the poor from all castes and communities.

That, precisely, turned out to be a key element in the vision statement of IOS: “working, via research and advocacy, to make development inclusive”. The Institute has relentlessly worked to achieve that goal over close to 25 years.

The immense promise of a new age of prosperity dawning on India has not always materialised, and some progress has been made to the inclusion of large sections of society. That has given the Institute the impetus to study the dynamics of development and its relation to exclusion.

Even the Rajiv era had its downside as it began with a fearsome mass killing of Sikhs, the perpetrators of which have not yet been brought to book after 26 years of the shameful events. That is not surprising as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were preceded and followed by even more fearsome anti-Muslim riots, the perpetrators of which have gone on to rule India and are moving around with impunity.

It has been one of the major concerns at IOS to study the politics and economics of anti-minorities, anti-Dalit, anti-Christian, anti-tribal violence and advocate prevention of such violence, punish the guilty, compensate and rehabilitate the victims. That has been an ongoing concern, one of the focal points of our studies and advocacy. That explains our deep involvement with advocacy groups trying to make Communal Violence (Prevention and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill a more meaningful document before it becomes an Act.

Over the years we have organised a virtually endless number of seminars, symposia conferences and conventions on such issues to create public awareness and to press for meaningful legislation and rigrous implementation of laws.

The nature of India’s lopsided economic development has always bothered us as it has created a richer upper middle class, increased the number of millionaires and billionaires, but has also deepened the deprivation of as much as 40 per cent of the population. According to latest reports the proportion of such people in India’s population is 77 percent. That is a contradiction in terms. As this is an extremely complex issue, we would do better to go into its details in a separate article. However, suffice it to say that much of the fruits of development have bypassed Muslims, as is well-documented by the Sachar Committee report. The IOS, on its own, as well as in collaboration with major advocacy groups and individuals in the country like the Sachar Report’s writer Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, has been working on measures of redressal initiated by the Union government.

It is Chinua Achebe (if I remember correctly) who has remarked so stunningly, “I hate the word ‘culture’, because it has a fascist ring to it”. How accurate! Fascists do have a particular love for the word ‘culture’.

I come to this point because we do try to study culture at the IOS in all its dimensions. However, another word, ‘development’, has of late begun to be deployed by fascists as their new calling card.

That the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat was state-sponsored is quite clear as established by over a dozen commissions of enquiry (including, by a panel of retired judges, British High commission, European Union, and rights groups). The involvement of so many of Gujarat ministers and high officials is there for all of us to see. The man who presided over this ghastly dance of death, Narandra Modi, was denied visa to the US precisely on these grounds. The long arm of law in India and the universal jurisdiction of laws of other countries have not exhausted their potential for justice as far as Modi is concerned.

What I want to point out here is the way Modi and his patrons have tried to divert public attention by taking the discourse away from his responsibility and role in the pogrom to the ‘development’ he has wrought. Once when Modi was asked about his role in the mass murder, he said non-challantly, “I don’t want to talk about it. Talk to me about development”.

A time came when everybody began talking about ‘development’ as if the murder of so many people did not matter. One wishes to ask these developmentwallahs a simple question: “Suppose your whole family is murdered by the government, which later tells you not to worry as good roads, sewers and markets have been developed in your locality, how would you react?” This elaborate fraud has to be exposed. As I said earlier, the issue of development, its politics, economics and sociology are prints of study at the IOS.

In fact, the celebrated author Arundhati Roy sees a connection between ‘development’ and mass murder of Muslims, Dalits, tribals and the poor. She rightly connects Narasimha Rao’s new economic policy (involving liberalisation, restructuring, privatisation and marketisation) and mass murder of Muslims during the long Ayodhya campaign throughout much of India.

The destruction of Babri Masjid, the riots that preceded and followed it were all carried out in the background of Rao’s new economic policy. These two aspects were virtually part of the same package as are the systematic murder and marginalisation of tribals in Chhattisgarh and Orissa and the fascist thuggery in Gujarat. We, at the IOS, have been trying to study, analyse and understand this aspect of ‘development’ as an anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-weak juggernaut. Interestingly, this is an international phenomenon, and part of the agenda of a globalizing elite.

Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership was the lowest ebb in the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution. He presided over the destruction of Babri Masjid.

Also at the heart of these issues is the identity question, the question of who we are. People are murdered because they are Muslims, Christians, Dalits, tribals. Nobody can run away from his or her identity by changing his/her dress, name or address, or by shaving his beard or calling his business ‘Good Bakery’ instead of ‘Rahmat Bakery’. The religious, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and gender identities are legitimised by the Constitution, but the state often fails to protect people with distinct minority identity of one kind or another.

The IOS has, through its research and advocacy tried to ensure that identity issues are dealt with in the way the Constitution and the UN conventions demand. g

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