It is a matter of pleasure that the Duty Society has organised a National Seminar on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Dr. Zakir Husain, former President of India, at the India International Centre on February 8, 2004.
I have great admiration for Dr. Zakir Husain, not because he was the President of India, but because of the great services which he rendered to promote education, his services to the people of India and particularly towards the educational upliftment of the Muslims of India.
Dr. Zakir Husain was a nationalist to the core and a secularist in temperament. He received his education at the Islamia High School, Etawah and M.A.O. College, Aligarh from where he took his M.A. Degree. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Humboltdt, Berlin(1923-26). It goes to the credit of the Duty Society and its Keeper, Professor Abul Hasan, while he was on a research assignment in Germany, unearthed the Ph.D. thesis of Dr. Zakir Husain, got it translated into English and finally had it published under the title 'Structure of Agriculture of British India' on behalf of the Duty Society.
Zakir Saheb left the M.A.O. College in the wake of Non-Cooperation Movement at the call of Gandhiji and Ali Brothers. When Jamia Millia was established as a National University, Zakir Saheb was appointed its Sheikh-ul-Jamia(Vice-Chancellor) in 1926, and held the post till 1948.
When the country was partitioned, and there was wholesale migration of Muslims to Pakistan, there was a state of despondency and the University Educational structure had gone to the lowest ebb. The University was in fact shambles, and it needed a Messiha to lift the University from the morass. It was at this time in November 1948, that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India sent Dr. Zakir Husain as Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.
Zakir Saheb had a very charming and colourful personality. He was very informal in nature. He started taking rounds of the Department of Studies and Halls of residences to inculcate confidence in teachers and students.
After doing my M.A. in Geography in 1947, I joined the university as Lecturer. The Department of Geography was located on the first floor in a portion of Osmania Hostel of S.S. Hall. While going to the Department one morning at about 8.00 a.m. I saw a man in neat white khaddar sherwani and cap in the midst of students in Mumtaz House and talking to students. This was my first encounter with Zakir Saheb. I admired his agility and zeal to restore confidence among the students.
In December 1951, Zakir Saheb organised the Convocation of the University and it was indeed a memorable Convocation Address which he delivered. His heart was full of anguish and pathos and he said in his address: "The memories of communal discord in our national life make it easy for those narrow-hearted visionless people to get away with uncharitable and unsympathetic misrepresentations. The general India public men are only too ready to accept any thing bad about us. I can understand this readiness but as an Indian, I feel I must do every thing to see that this unhealthy attitude does not make loyal Muslim Indian citizens feel that they can be looked down upon as foreigner in their own country."
Dr. Zakir Husain gave a new lease of life to the Aligarh Muslim University in his capacity as Vice-Chancellor of the University. Being an educationist himself, the first thing that he did was to put the departments of Studies on even keel by inviting, offering eminent people in different subjects to the University and giving them permanent appointments. Appointment of persons who had a vision in the field was his first priority. He solved the financial crisis which the University was facing and ushered a green belt around the University.
Dr. Zakir Husain had a very soft corner for the Duty Society. This society was established in 1889 by Sahebzada Aftab Ahmad Khan with the main aim to help the needy students. The Society had dedicated workers in its fold. They were called Khuddam(servants) of the Society and at their own expence, they went to different parts of India and collected funds for the Society. It was condition of the Society that the amount given to a student was a sort of loan and when the student would become an earning hand, he would return the money to the society. When I joined the University at the post graduate level in Geography in 1945, I also got a loan of Rs 96/-.
By and by the Society fell on evil days and it was reduced to one man's show. The society worked and functioned on the whims and caprices of a particular person known as Keeper of the Duty Society. The dedicated workers also disappeared and financially it became a defunct society.