Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Sixteen eventful years of IOS, its present, and future
Dr. Manzoor Alam
Whitehead once observed, “Great ideas often enter reality in
strange disguises”. The idea of building an institution that would
ultimately emerge as a think-tank of India’s Muslims, with chapters
all over India, gaining advisory status with the United Nations
within a short span of about a decade, was certainly an idea of the
type White head wrote about. And it did enter reality in a strange
disguise – it had a very modest beginning. The beginning was more
symbolic than substantial.
quite sometime, yours truly and a small group of his friends were
deeply perturbed over the turn political developments had taken of
late. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in October 1984 as an ominous,
anti-Muslim yatra rumbled
through the length and breadth of the country. Billed as ekatmata
yatra (unity march), this organised mischief ended up doing just
the reverse – it divided the country vertically on communal lines.
the organisers claimed that this was actually what they had intended
– uniting Hindus by dividing them violently from the minorities.
They hoped that by giving common Hindus a plausible enemy, big
enough to be credible and weak enough to be crushed easily, they
would unite the majority community on a shared platform. The enemy
image of Muslims was built with myriad symbolisms, theatrical
posturing, references to epic battles and the fight between “good
and evil”. In all this Muslims were the symbolical evil—Ravana,
Hirnakasyapu, sometimes even Duryodhan.
and imagined “events” from history – Muslim invasion,
destruction of temples, denigration of religion – were staple
rhetoric of the yatra. So
were some of the contemporary themes like cow slaughter, four wives
(and 24 children) for each Muslim male, government bowing to Muslim
“pressure” over Shah Bano and enacting Muslim Women’s Rights
Act. By the time Mrs. Gandhi was shot, the country was on a boil,
seething with anti-Muslim rage. The massacre of Sikhs under Congress
stewardship was only a rehearsal for similar events in the coming
years under different party rules but with the same bureaucracy, the
same instigators and the same foot soldiers of hate.
the time the Institute of Objective Studies was established in 1986,
the country was sliding ever faster into chaos. Ekatmata
yatra turned out to be only the first in a long series of such
illegal and destructive yatras
that continued to be staged with disturbing regularity. We found out
that we had far more work to do in terms of academic research and
development of a meaningful policy framework than our meagre
resources could permit. Operating from our extremely small office at
Vateg Building in Nizamuddin, we had to slog endlessly to achieve
our goals, which were: Dawah,
understanding the nature of Indian religions, critical analysis of
different ideologies, analysing the problems of Indian Muslims and
India as such for the amelioration of the situation of Muslims,
other minorities and disadvantaged sections.
years down the line, we have today the satisfaction of having
produced a massive body of research in applied economics, sociology,
history, religion, human rights, legal and political studies,
besides gender and specific problems of Muslim society. All this has
been published in the form of some books and reports, most of them
of great use for academics and policy makers.
work has brought recognition not only from the UN but also from the
Government of India, which finds our studies useful for welfare
programmes regarding Muslims and other minorities. Minority welfare
projects and schemes are areas in which we are consulted by the
Union government as well as government leaders of the states. That
shows our credibility.
the last 16 years the IOS has grown into a virtual corporation, or,
sort of an intellectual movement. It has also evolved as an advocacy
NGO articulating the community’s problems, ventilating issues and
ideas through seminars and workshops, providing a platform for
intellectuals, ulema, social workers, politicians, bureaucrats and
government leaders to interact meaningfully and pick up ideas for
better governance and consideration of our cause. It helps our
people to get a close understanding of how the state and its
different organs function and how to get our concerns registered in
corridors of power. That is in addition to our role as a purely
often hear about the American Jewry wielding extraordinary influence
in the US, which has a population of 300 million, although the
Jewish population there is only four million. The Jews are
successful there for many reasons, most of them known to us all. But
what is less known is that the Jewish people are thoroughly
conversant with the functioning of the state and its major players
like politicians and bureaucrats. Our people don’t have such
grasp, and hence they fail to interact with the state well, not only
in countries where they are in a minority but also in their own
states. IOS has also been focusing on this crucial area.
the years IOS has spawned several associated organisations and
forums like the Indian Association of Muslim Social Scientists and
other fora for the study of law, human rights and other subjects
critically important to our wellbeing as a community.
has constantly tried to bring a Muslim and Islamic perspective to
the study of subjects over the entire spectrum. The list of our
achievements is rather long and, I am afraid, you would have to read
large reports to have a fairly good idea. Such reports are available
with the IOS and can be obtained on request.
me admit frankly that we had to face, and continue to face, hurdles.
We moved from Vateg to the present building in 1990. At that time it
seemed to be sufficient for our needs. Now we feel that we have
already outgrown the space. Like all other NGOs we are a non-profit
organisation, all donations to us being tax exempt under G-88 of our
country’s law. Again, like all NGOs we are always hard pressed for
funds, sometimes leading to project delays.
state chapters are yet to be viable units in terms of funds. I would
like that we pay some attention to this vexatious problem and work
out some stratagem to generate enough funds locally.
are also disturbed over the steadily shrinking space for democracy
within India and world-wide because it is in that space alone that
civil society organisations like ours function. In a situation like
this, it is not only difficult to protect human rights and civil
liberties but also to find suitable donors in a climate of hostility
and suspicion. Policy study NGOs (which we are primarily), and even
advocacy NGOs, get generous funding from the Central government.
Quite a few NGOs in Delhi itself get government funds, which run
into crores of rupees for each NGO every year. So far, we have not
worked on this aspect because of several reasons. A lot of our work
is on Islam per se which is outside government purview in any case.
However, a substantial part of work concerns the Muslim situation in
India. Indian Muslims being citizens of the country are entitled to
government support, but that is a matter of our own policy and
climate of anti-minority violence has aggravated since we started 16
years back. Far more people are engaged full time in spreading
anti-minority hatred and hysteria with great human and financial
resources at their command. We, and people like us, have yet to be
able to intervene effectively through a proper interface with the
state and civil society in India. We have contributed towards that
goal quite effectively, but have still a lot of way to go.
This is the moment to renew our pledge taken 16 years ago, take stock of our present situation, and surge ahead with more clear vision, fail-safe plan and renewed energy. Best of luck. And may Allah help us in our mission. Amen!
Dr Manzoor Alam is Chairman of Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi.The above is the text of his address at the Annual General Meeting of IOS on August 3, 2003.