ICCR dumps Maulana Azad’s collection in a ‘corner’

Some 10,000 books and manuscripts gifted by Maulana Azad to ICCR are looking for a more hospitable host

Husn Ara inside the Azad library at ICCR
Husn Ara inside the Azad library at ICCR

Mohd Asim Khan

While ICCR Chairman Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, a BJP Rajya Sabha MP, denies reports that the library named after the country’s first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is being shut down, he sounds far from convincing. “The library is very much there, it has only been reorganised,” Sahasrabuddhe told National Herald.

On a visit the previous day, however, a staff member at the now-defunct library had confided, “The library named after Maulana Azad has been shut down here and the books are being given away to various libraries and institutions.”

‘Gosha-e-Azad’, a section at the headquarters of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) was dedicated to the memory of one of the foremost freedom fighters and India’s first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. ‘Gosha’, an Urdu word, literally translates to “corner”.

Gosha-e-Azad boasts of a collection of rare books and manuscripts, more than 10,000 of them, gifted to the ICCR by Maulana Azad. His personal collection included 197 rare manuscripts in Arabic, Urdu and Persian languages. They are now gathering dust in a corner of the ICCR.

Husn Ara, a grandniece of Maulana Azad, says that on a recent visit to the library she was “pained” to see the books kept so carelessly. “This collection of books has a sentimental value for us. If the ICCR cannot keep it and wants to get rid of it, we are ready take it back,” she asserted.

It was in 2018 that it was first suggested to shift the library out of ICCR headquarters. Ironically, the same year Firoz Bakht Ahmed, who claims to be a grandnephew of Maulana Azad, presented a book on Azad authored by him to the Prime Minister. “I presented him a copy of the book and he (Modi) immediately said, ‘Arre yeh toh hamare dil me hain (Oh, he {Maulana Azad} is there in our hearts)’,” recalls Ahmed, who is the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

Husn Ara, however, feels otherwise. “I visited ICCR recently and found that they have removed Maulana’s portrait from there. Then I saw Goshae-Azad and the books were just gathering dust there with no one to take care of them. I spoke with various officials at ICCR and sensed that they wanted to somehow get rid of that library and books,” she recalls.

An ICCR staff said that the manuscripts have been digitised and can be accessed on the ICCR’s website. The process of digitising other books and documents etc is also on, he added. The membership of the library is no longer being offered, he confirmed, but informed that “interested people could access the books and manuscripts after taking permission from the section in-charge”.

Not everyone feels placated. “The importance of books will always remain and cannot be glossed over by preserving them in digital form’, said a research scholar.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed, however, would not accuse the government of neglecting Azad. “I will write to the ICCR Chairman about the status of the library. Towering personalities as Maulana Azad, Gandhi ji, Pandit Nehru can never be forgotten. We have got to blame ourselves and not the government for neglecting the legacies of our leaders,” he maintains.

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Published: 20 Nov 2021, 5:00 PM