Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The untimely death of the Cambridge based scholar Dr. Omar Khalidi is quite shocking. He was 57. Preliminary reports suggest that he was fatally struck by a subway trolley near the Kendall Square station in Cambridge, USA.

He was working at MIT and left behind his wife and daughter. I have known to him for his unending passion for the pursuit of social justice of Muslims in India. My deepest condolences go to his family.

Dr. Khalidi was born in Hyderabad and was the son of Professor Abu Nasr Khalidi, a well known scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies at Osmania University. He got his BA from Wichita State University, ALM from Harvard University School of Extension Studies and PhD from University of Wales-Lampeter, UK.

I have come to know about Dr Khalidi when I was in Hyderabad working as reporter in 1995-6 and also researching on the princely state and Partition of India. I was fresh with my doctoral work “The Partition of India and British policy 1940-45.” I had read his work “The fall of Hyderabad,” that graphically brings out the police action against the princely state of Hyderabad and the atrocities committed against the Muslims in its aftermath.

I contacted Dr Khalidi at his e mail address (okhalidi@MIT.EDU) and he responded to me immediately. Though my project was indefinitely postponed but my contact with him remained intact.

He was in Chennai in 2002 and stayed at Chola Sheraton and we had a late evening conversation on the theme Indian Muslims that went on till the wee hours and we both needed a bad sleep still the talk remained inconclusive.

We talked about Muslim publications in India the defunct ‘One Nation Chronicle’ rechristened ‘Nation and the World.’ We talked about Mili Gazatee, Muslim India, role of Syed Shahabuddin in Babri Masjid, role of Syed Hamid in education and Hamadard University. We talked about M.J. Akbar and Seema Mustafa and Sultan Shahin and many others.

Our conversation did touch up Hyderabad, and we talked about Prince Mukaram Jah, the fabled Falaknuma, Chomohalla and the Nazri Bagh Palaces. The Telegana politics too came up for a thought.

Dr Khaladi, was more of a researcher than an armed chair commentator. He had advised me not to loose track of research and base my submissions on hard facts.

To hammer home the point, hard facts should be the only arrow, in one’s quiver, he told me, adding he had all the copies of Muslim India, because it contains huge data to rely upon.

Among several of his work, the one we talked was “Romance of the Golconda Diamonds.” He explained that in the state of Golconda that was later absorbed in Mughal India mining activity for diamonds once flourished.

Dr Khalidi did a interview with me that day on his pet topic the current status of Indian Muslims. He was amused to hear me say that a middle class is fast emerging among contemporary Indian Muslim community and this is happening at breath neck speed after the liberalization of the Indian economy since 1990s.

Now India Muslim youth are not much interested in going to Gulf countries for jobs as they did so in the 1970s and 80s. They prefer to stay back in India where there exists an ample opportunity to make a living. I told him after liberalization, the general discrimination theory does not work, the entrepreneurs mostly Hindus do not have any inhibition in recruiting Muslims, because they are hardworking, honest and upright.

Dr Khalidi was bemused; perhaps my thoughts did not fit into discriminatory stereotype. I remember him talking about Muslim presidents of India that were to show to the world that Indian Muslims are not discriminated but then do a head count in the government and private offices and you will get a real picture of Muslim discrimination.

I told him now, this is no more the case, the software industry, so many other industries which is driving the Indian economy, has countless Muslim youth in its folds and they are doing well in privatized corporate Indian economy.

I remember Dr Khalidi asking me to give him contacts in various India cities, so that he can do a survey on this issue through his questioners and promised to pay those who get involved with him in this project. I think he may have incorporated these points in his book is “Muslims in Indian Economy” published in December 2005.

Dr. Khalidi will be remembered for his courage in taking on issues that others feared to tread. .He was known for his commitment to the cause of justice and fairness for Indian Muslims.

His last article was on the recent Babari Masjid judgment was seminal. He lambasted the Archilogical survey of India (ASI) that provided the clinching evidence for the ‘learned’ judgment. Read through the link- “ASI: Hindutva's handmaiden.”

Dr. Khalidi was a pioneer in the field of research on Indian Muslims and contemporary Indian politics. He left behind him a monumental legacy that had a significant impact on the political landscape of India and a multitude of people were motivated and inspired by his work.

He authored the much acclaimed book “Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India: Armed Forces, Police and Paramilitary During Communal Riots”. The book is in its second edition, revised and enlarged edition came out in December 2009.

As an independent scholar his research interests were in the sociology of politics, upward and downward economic mobility of ethnic groups, nationalism and diaspora and Islamic architecture.

His other works include 'Indian Muslims since Independence', 1996, and edited 'Hyderabad: After the Fall', 1988, a collection of academic papers.

He is the author of several articles on Islamic architecture like “Approaches to Mosque Design in North America” and “Import, Adapt, Innovate: Mosque Design in the United States.”

Even though he was based in the US he had the pulse of Indian Muslims in his hand. He could fearlessly speak about the discrimination of Indian Muslims and he supported this with hard facts, be it the head count of Muslims in Indian Defence forces or in the news rooms.

Passing away of Dr Omer Dr. Khalidi is a great loss to Indian Muslim. He lived every moment in India.Perhaps the best way to carry forward his legacies would be to create a chair in his name in any of the Indian university to carry out research on the social issues of Indian Muslims. It may be a humble way to pay tribute to late Dr. Khalidi.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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