His­to­rian of the marginalised

FrontLine - - OBITUARY - BY ZIYA US SALAM

Mushirul Hasan (1949-2018) was the quintessen­tial Left his­to­rian

used the past to de­bate the present.

THERE was very lit­tle to dis­like about Prof. Mushirul Hasan. A man of mea­sured words, he sel­dom al­lowed you the lux­ury of mis­in­ter­pret­ing his word. His sub­tle wit, be­guil­ing charm, and la­conic ways often re­duced you to a fawn­ing ad­mirer. But he was not a sorcerer who was ready with a re­hearsed trick at a mo­ment’s no­tice. His aura of near in­vin­ci­bil­ity came from his schol­ar­ship and, iron­i­cally, his in­de­pen­dent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tory. In a dis­ci­pline often strait­jack­eted be­tween the right wing and the left wing, he pro­vided a fresh per­spec­tive. His left­ist lean­ings and his up­bring­ing in the home of a his­to­rian—his fa­ther Mo­hib­bul Hasan was a his­to­rian too—com­bined to make sure he asked more ques­tions than the world could eas­ily an­swer.

He spoke up for the de­prived, the dis­pos­sessed and the dis­placed. And since Mus­lims often made up the bulk of the marginalised, he spoke up for them too. In­deed, more than a decade ago, when Jamia Mil­lia Is­lamia’s mi­nor­ity char­ac­ter was ques­tioned, he showed a hith­erto un­known facet of his per­son­al­ity. As the Vice Chan­cel­lor, he in­spired the fac­ulty of the uni­ver­sity, the staff and the stu­dents to lead a march to pro­tect the uni­ver­sity’s unique sta­tus. And he led the march him­self, prov­ing that he was no mere iconic in­tel­lec­tual, teach­ing from the safe con­fines of a class­room. If the need arose, he was will­ing to hit the streets, raise his voice, and make the deaf hear.

This abil­ity to mix with or­di­nary peo­ple sur­prised many. But un­known to them, Hasan was a left­ist at heart. He was ready for sweat and grime. The march also marked a home­com­ing of sorts for Hasan at Jamia. It was at Jamia in the late 1980s that the stu­dent fra­ter­nity had spo­ken out against him when he ques­tioned the ban on Sal­man Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. He may have done it un­der the larger am­bit of free­dom of ex­pres­sion—in­ci­den­tally, the Prophet him­self had par­doned much worse slan­der from his op­po­nents—but the stu­dent com­mu­nity and a large sec­tion of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity thought he had sold his soul. Urdu news­pa­pers, often a more re­li­able in­dex of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity’s mind, went

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