By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
20 December 2018
Mushirul Hasan (15 August 1949 – 10 December 2018) was a historian of modern India. He wrote extensively on the partition of India, communalism, and on the history of Islam in South Asia
The passing away of Professor Mushir ul Hasan in many ways signifies the passing of an era. Academician, administrator and an active member of the civil society, he was many things rolled into one. It was because of this multi-faceted personality that his funeral was attended by people from different walks of life, writers, journalists and of course academicians from all over Delhi. Muslims, non-Muslims and atheists, all participated in his funeral prayer, something which is a rarity in these troubled times. Throughout his life, Mushir Sb. laboriously wrote about the composite religious heritage of this country. In his death, he was perhaps giving us the same message.
Mushir Sb. was academically productive throughout his life. Even when he became the Vice Chancellor of Jamia University, he continued to publish books with routine regularity. While being a chronicler of partition, Mushir Sb. oeuvre included satire, fiction and contemporary political issues. His focus though remained the same throughout: to underscore that Muslims were coparcenaries in this country and that any attempt to understand them separately from the mainstream was historically incorrect. He painstakingly brought out how Muslims had fought for the independence of the country. How after partition, Muslim leaders had envisioned a life as political equals in this country. Perturbed by the right-wing shift in our political culture, he would underscore the importance of Nehruvian secularism and its relevance for our polity. He was equally concerned about the element of social and religious separatism which was creeping amongst various communities in the country and eroding the foundations of composite culture. Equally critical of Muslim fundamentalism and Hindu nationalism, Mushir Sb. never hesitated to call a spade a spade, always upholding the values of liberalism and critique which were so dear to him.
It was because of his temerity to defend these values against all odds that he became a victim of the most vicious attack on his person and character when he was the pro-VC of the Jamia University. Mushir Sb. had opposed the banning of Salman Rushdie’s book the Satanic Verses because he thought that it was not the right solution. Hell broke loose on the Jamia campus after he gave that interview. Not just conservative academicians rushed to condemn him, but some Congress politicians, who have a vested interest in keeping Muslims backward, started instigating students and faculty members against Professor Hasan. Things came to such a pass that he was physically attacked inside his chamber and could escape the campus with some help but with a great amount of luck. Professor Hasan could never forget that murderous attack on him but yet he developed no antipathy for Jamia, its students and faculty members. The only lesson that he took from the episode was that Jamia was the playground of many different kind of forces, some of whom definitely wanted to treat the university as their pocket borough.
This lesson would come handy for Mushir Sb. when he became the VC of Jamia. Acutely aware of the land sharks and the political interference of some families, he still managed to put Jamia onto the intellectual map of Delhi. It was under his vice chancellorship that Jamia saw unprecedented growth in terms of recruitment of faculty members and also of establishment of new centres of learning and research. He tirelessly worked for getting more funds for Jamia, not just from the government but also from willing donors abroad. The state of the art dental college, for example, was established with the support of Saudi government. Mushir Sb. was also instrumental in freeing Jamia land from land sharks which made him very unpopular with these forces. In terms of faculty recruitment, he tried to get the best professors to Jamia to raise the profile of the university. He was especially attentive to young faculty members and always ready to help them in case of any need. And yet this colossus of a man was so humble. Unlike many others who think that the position of vice chancellor means nothing short of being a dictator, he would just walk into any centre or department and generally indulge in conversation with faculty and students there. This accessibility was in sharp contrast to the person who succeeded him who would make sure to send dozens of his security guards to ‘sanitise’ the area before he ventured out anywhere in the university.
The Batla House ‘encounter’ was one of the major crises which Jamia faced during his tenure. One of those killed by the police was a Jamia student. There were tough questions raised over the alleged encounter. Students were restive and a section of politicians belonging to the right wing started to call Jamia as terror hub. The Congress did not cover itself in glory, with their leading lights making extremely irresponsible and contradictory statements. And then, the conservatives within Jamia and one politician in particular outside Jamia sensed that it was the right opportunity to foment trouble on the campus. As things would go out of hand, they would demand the ouster of the VC. Acutely aware of these dynamics, Mushir Sb. took the battle to them by leading the students from the front. In a sense, he assumed the political leadership of the students spoke with them on a regular basis and led a march to protest against the negative stereotyping of Jamia. The students were reassured that there was someone who was equally aggrieved by this communal profiling of the university. As faculty members we were all relieved when normalcy returned to campus. But more importantly, we were proud of Mushir Sb. who handled the situation so deftly. He became so popular that those vested interests who wanted to de-stabilise Jamia retreated in haste, never to threaten him again.
And yet it was his popularity amongst the students and faculty which became the reason why he was targeted after he demitted office. The person who succeeded him and the useless rump around him, made life hell for Professor Hasan. He was literally banished from the campus. No one would call him to seminars or special lectures any more perhaps under the impression that the new VC would not like it. What upset Mushir Sb. the most was that some of those, whom he had personally helped when he was the VC, turned against him. Efforts were made to undo what Mushir Sb. had painstakingly achieved. The new VC, who thought of himself as Akbar, made all the effort to humiliate most of the teachers who had been appointed by Mushir Sb. Extremely shoddy professors, who hadn’t ever published a decent research paper were made in-charge of evaluating the academic performance of teachers recruited under Mushir Sb. Progressives and famed liberals, both young and old, fell silent even without a whimper of protest. Worse still, some of them would even cut a deal with the new VC and become his yes men.
All those who came for Professor Hasan’s funeral and many more who could not attend must ask this question: Why was he humiliated in this fashion when he was alive? For all the good that Mushir Sb. did to Jamia, was he not even fit to be appointed as Professor Emeritus?
You will be missed Mushir Sb. Not just for your academic brilliance and institution building but also for your capacity to combine grace and humility with grit and determination.
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