Historian of the marginalised
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