Updated: January 30, 2022 2:46:06 am
Human rights activist and former physics professor Juzer S Bandukwala passed away on Saturday morning at his residence in the Pratapgunj area of Vadodara following prolonged illness.
Bandukwala, who had been an advocate for reforms in the Muslim community, was 77.
Bandukwala, who lived alone, developed age-related complications and was under treatment at home for the last one week.
His physician Dr Mohammed Hussain told The Sunday Express, “He had diabetes and cardiac ailments among other comorbidities. He was also suffering from mild Alzheimer’s in the recent past.”
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“For the last one week, we had deputed medical staff at his residence because he was refusing to be hospitalised. He developed septicemia in the last few days. Last evening we were trying to convince him to get hospitalised…He passed away this morning at his residence,” he added.
Bandukwala was a graduate of Bombay University and a Doctorate in Physics. As the President of the Union of Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara in 1981, Bandukwala stood up for the rights of Dalit students at MSU.
He had been opposed to the concept of ghettoisation of the Muslim community and led a crusade from 2015 to rehabilitate nearly 450 displaced Muslim families of Kalyannagar slums in Vadodara who had been left in a lurch after the civic body cancelled a housing draw following communal protests in the Sayajipura area of Vadodara.
The crusade, which went on for nearly five years, took a toll on his health.
Bandukwala had, in 2018, written to then Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani likening the developments to the apartheid system of South Africa, and terming the BJP-led VMC’s conduct “most shameful”.
Rejecting the VMC’s offer to shift the Muslim families to a minority-dominated neighbourhood, Bandukwala had said, “The Muslims have the right to live anywhere, and not just in Muslim ghettos like Tandalja. The conclusion we can draw is that Muslims can only live in select Muslim localities. This is segregation as practised in the USA before Martin Luther King struggled to abolish it 50 years ago. Note that this apartheid system last prevailed in South Africa… Does Gujarat want a repeat of this apartheid in 2018 vis-à-vis Muslims?”
For his revolutionary activities since his younger days, Bandukwala had also been at the receiving end many times, including the 2002 Gujarat riots when his house in Sama area of Vadodara was torched.
The family moved out of their dream home but the incident had left a deep trauma on the mind of his wife, who slipped into depression and passed away a few years later.
Bandukwala, continued to advocate an inclusive society, choosing to live in a home in a mixed neighbourhood throughout his life.
He had also devoted his life to encouraging Muslim children to take up education and aspire for professional careers.
As the lifetime President of the Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust, Bandukwala raised funds to extend financial support to the underprivileged children of the minority community. The trust, annually, supported the education of close to 400 students.
A stream of visitors was seen at Bandukwala’s residence on Saturday morning as the news of his passing away spread –people from the Muslim community, former students and colleagues as well as other fellow activists gathered to pay their condolences.
Although none from his family could be by his side for his last journey, his domestic help of over 25 years, Shashiben, who he would fondly address as “Mari Behen (my sister)”, remained inconsolable.
Indebted residents of Kalyannagar also took his mortal remains to the site of the reconstructed homes and paid their tribute to the man who fought their battle. He was later laid to rest at the Bara Imam burial ground near his wife’s grave.
Bandukwala was also conferred with the honour of the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 2006 for promoting communal harmony.
Community leaders say that Bandukwala’s demise has created a void that no one can fill.
Dr Hussain, who is the President of the Zidni Ilma Trust founded by Bandukwala in 2006 said, “He was very sensitive towards the needy and marginalised. He would directly meet people who needed help and arrived at his door, even at midnight. After the 2002 riots, he firmly advocated for the community youth to be educated in order to be able to progress and he formed the Zidni Ilma Trust in 2006. Till date, the trust has given scholarships of about Rs 7 crore to 5,000-6,000 marginalised students. He often advised Muslims to donate the money for poor children’s education instead of travelling to Mecca in large numbers… His demise is a big loss but we will carry forward his work.”
Socio-political activist, Zuber Gopalani from Vadodara, who has been closely associated with Bandukwala for the Kalyannagar campaign said, “There is no other like Dr Bandukwala in the entire country… his vision, his strength, and firmness had been unmatched. He was absolutely apolitical and had no biases towards any faith. He had zero tolerance for the wrong and believed in zero compromises with the truth, even if his own colleagues were in the wrong.”
Sudarshan Iyengar of Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH), Dharampur Centre, Valsad, remembers Bandukwala as the “young, handsome professor”, who was also the Warden of the Sardar Patel Hall in 1973.
Iyengar told this newspaper, “Bandukwala was so impressive not just as a physics professor but due to his thoughts. He was a very well-read person and his most famous line to the students at that time — just ahead of the Navnirman movement in Gujarat — was, ‘My children, don’t pick up the stones to pelt, we have issues but we have to resolve them with non-violent means’…”
“He was a very loving and caring person and a true family man, who had a beautiful family… He was progressive, not in the political connotation of being a leftist, but from the fact that he was very conscious of what his community should be doing in terms of education,” he added.
Bandukwala’s son Azim and daughter Umaima — both based in the United States — are expected to arrive in Vadodara soon to pay their respects, family friends said.
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