Omar Khalidi: An Icon says Goodbye
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
The fallen leaves outside the magnificent building of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will not rustle with the step of a man who walked inside the famous university each morning with a purpose. The infinite corridor of MIT will feel the emptiness and void left behind a scholar whose works overshadow the unending corridor. The books of massive MIT library have lost their best friend; an intellectual who was not merely a librarian but a book-lover as well. The sudden demise of Dr. Omar Khalidi in a train accident in Boston on November 29 was a severe blow to Indian Muslims in India and United States. The best way to honour him would be to constitute a chair in his name at Osmania University or Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia. The chair should should promote the kind of research work Dr. Khalidi had been doing for the past 30 years.
I first heard the name of Omar Khalidi in 2006 when he wrote an article in Hindustan Times passionately arguing that Sachar Committee should do a consensus of minorities in armed forces. The demand was indeed provocative but Dr. Khalidi never shied away from taking a firm stand by substantiating his point of view with solid facts. Persistence finally paid off and his demand was quietly accepted by the Sachar Committee though no official till date has acknowledged this! Dr. Khalidi proved the age-old proverb that pen is mightier than the sword. From then on, I have read almost all articles written by him. To me, Dr. Khalidi signified the power of pen. Sittings 12,000 kms away in MIT office, his flawless yet simple prose had the potential to cause unrest in Prime Minister’s minority agenda.
When I was introduced to him via email on ninth of April, 2009, he was working on the second edition of his pathbreaking book ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence in India’. Without any customary exchange and flattery, he directly asked a question:
“I understand from a Mumbai-based activist (takes a leading activist’s name) that she and another journalist in Nanded obtained from Maharashtra government the statistics about Muslims in Maharashtra police. Do you anything about this matter? The activist was going to send me that document but did not - she said she will send the document in November last year (2008) but nothing happened. She did not disclose the name of the journalist. I am revising ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence’ and can use the document if you are able to procure it.”
I pursued this matter for two months to get the report but the activist never cooperated. At no point in my email exchange with Omar Khalidi, he lost his cool at such unprofessionalism on the part of the activist. He took this denial with a pinch of salt. In the last email on this subject, he retorted to Hyderabadi sarcasm. He wrote, “Have you spoken to masruf logan (busy people) as we say in Hyderabad sharif? Let me know if you find out anything from them.”
In his career spanning over 30 years, Dr. Khalidi was always the target of Hindutva brigade. In April 2010, he organised a workshop on a theme which rattled the ranks of Sangh Parivar. The workshop was titled ‘Terrorism and Group Violence - Challenges to Secularism and Rule of Law in India’. There was a sustained campaign to call off the workshop but the higher authorities of MIT had faith in Dr. Khalidi. The workshop was successful but Dr. Khalidi was branded “anti-Hindu” and “soft Jihadi”.
I discovered the humility of Dr. Khalidi when I first met him on November 13, 2010 in Cambridge. Accompanied by his family, Dr. Khalidi had come to listen to me on the subject of Malegaon. He was fascinated by history of Malegaon. He sat on my left like a commoner. When I broached the topic of his book ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence’ thinking that he would talk about the activist, he said, “Send me an email, I will ask the publisher to despatch you a copy of the revised edition.” Here was a man with no ill-will and malice against anybody. He was a walking embodiment of dictum of Dr. Abdul Haq, “Baat kum aur kaam zyada.”
For 16 days, I didn’t send him any email. On the 17th day, God took away a leading light from us.
Also appeared in Sunday Inquilab, December 5, 2010