A former Physics Professor’s battle for harmony, sanity and rationality

This ex-IIT professor’s indomitable spirit reminds some of Ernest Hemingway’s classic ‘The Old Man And The Sea’

 Prof Tripathi writes and distributes pamphlets on every trending subject   
Prof Tripathi writes and distributes pamphlets on every trending subject

Sanjukta Basu

To many or even most of those who know him, professor Tripathi remains an enigma. Why would a retired professor of physics from IIT-Delhi, now in his seventies, take up seemingly lost causes and seek to educate people on citizenship and farm laws? On Kashmir, terrorism and history? Shouldn’t the septuagenarian take some well-deserved rest, read and spend his time with grandchildren or with his friends?

But he walks. He travels. He writes and he argues. He distributes pamphlets on every trending subject, from Kashmir to farmers. He was there at Shaheen Bagh. He was also at the Singhu border with farmers. In between, he flew off to Kolkata to get a first-hand feel of communalism on the ground and fight it.

His daughter, Dr Rakhi Tripathi, estimates that in the last three decades her father would have walked 32,000 kilometres across India and distributed millions of pamphlets. Till 2018 he would carry out three to four major campaigns every year, she recalls. But after retiring from his honorary post, he takes up one campaign a month. He brings out his own quarterly journal and distributes them by post and email to select people. He spends from his own savings, though friends and family do chip in once in
a while.

Prof Tripathi spends over Rs 100,000 every year on printing and his travel. He prefers travelling in buses and in general compartments in trains. He wrote his first pamphlet in January 1990 during his sabbatical break in University of Maryland in the US. It was an anguished response to the Bhagalpur riots and Ayodhya movement back in India. Joined by academics and students at the university, he distributed 4000 pamphlets amongst NRIs, collected 825 signatures and submitted a memorandum to the Indian Ambassador at Washington DC.

His message of communal harmony and secularism, he admits, has fewer takers in India today. “India has become deeply polarized, and even secular minded people are now scared and hesitant to get identified. The administration has also become vindictive,” prof Tripathi tells National Herald.

The professor does not mince his words. The secular fabric of India changed with the 1969 Ahmedabad riots orchestrated by the RSS and other Hindutva groups, he says. “The textile mill owners wanted to install power looms, mass retrenchment was in the offing but the mill workers consisting of both Hindus and Muslims resisted. To break their resolve and to polarize them, RSS engineered the riot,”
he recalls.

Similarly, Bhiwandi riots in Maharashtra of May 1970 also involved textile mill workers and it was again linked to RSS, Jan Sangh and other groups. “These two riots established that if you want to quickly gain power, Hindu-Muslim tension is the tool.”

Communal hatred, he asserts, is patronised by the elite business community. There are polarising elements and hate on both sides, but elite Muslim and Islamist business-men are outnumbered and hence they do not pose much threat,
he believes.

“Elite Islamists are merely 3%; they mostly act in self-defence, there has never been a threat of them exerting political power to that extent. It is the Hindu elite business community that tries to mobilise forces to retain control on the economy, power, politics and so on,” he says unhesitatingly.

A Gandhian, prof Tripathi believes it is his duty to work for communal harmony. His untiring efforts have however failed to impress some of his own relatives. He now keeps his distance from them and prefers to interact with only like-minded people, his daughter informs.

Son of a Gandhian freedom fighter prof Tripathi was born barely a month after Gandhi’s assassination in village Piprai in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh. He grew up in a different India. “In my village there were different pockets for each community, Ahir, Mochi, Adivasi and Musalman and other such caste/community, but there was no conflict,” he recalls.

He imbibed his secular and Gandhian values from his father who left school at 4th grade to join the freedom movement, and his primary school teacher, Maulvi Ahmed Baksh. These values have guided him through his life and continues to influence his family as his daughter too joins him often for his pamphleteering campaigns.

He has been heckled and abused. His pamphlets have been occasion-ally snatched from him. He has been mocked and jeered. But luckily, he has not been manhandled or assaulted yet. “I have never felt scared for him, I think he can handle any situation,” says his daughter. The professor himself is nonchalant. “There has never been any threat. Though a couple of times people used verbal abuse, and sometimes they tore off the pamphlets. Nothing beyond that.”

“We need to speak up but I don’t know if the National Herald would have the courage to publish,” he says with a half-smile hovering on his lips. Perhaps that explains his motivation. As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see.”

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