mid-day's 39th anniversary: Leading young Mumbai's political consciousness

By Jane Borges | Mumbai

After decades, he has created in Mumbai a politically vibrant student force, which poses a formidable challenge to the establishment

Fahad Ahmad has filled the vacuum created since the murder of student activist Owen D'Souza in 1989 that prompted Maharashtra to ban elections to the student council. Pic/Nishad Alam

Fahad Ahmed, 25
General Secretary, TISS Students' Union

Two years ago, when Fahad Ahmad secured admission to the MPhil programme at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and moved to Mumbai from Baheri in Uttar Pradesh, the megalopolis seemed overwhelming. "As soon as I arrived, I knew I didn't want to stay long," recalls Ahmad, currently general secretary of the students' union at the institution.

But on February 21 this year, life happened to him, or that's how he would like to put it. Ahmad along with other members of the union led a protest inside the TISS campus, over the withdrawal of financial aid for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students, drawing nationwide attention to the cause. "For the first time, it felt like I had found a purpose," he says. Currently shuttling between Mumbai and Delhi, where he has reached out to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes among others, to rally support for the protest movement, Ahmad says Mumbai is where he will establish a formidable student force. He hopes he can challenge the educational system, which he feels is de-stabilising democracy with its policies of saffronisation and privatisation.

A breath of fresh air for the city's student movement, which has seen a vacuum since the murder of student activist Owen D'Souza in 1989 that also prompted Maharashtra to ban elections to the student council in 1993, Ahmad says he is aware of the responsibility that comes with being a torchbearer of change. But, someone needs to start.

He credits his father, Zirar Ahmad for the turn. "I remember my father leading social campaigns. He also helped families that were unable to rustle up finances to go on Haj. It was this environment that nurtured my activism," says Ahmad, the eldest of five children.

When he was in class 9, Zirar sent his son to Aligarh Muslim University. "While my interest in student politics began there, it's not until I joined the Central University of Himachal Pradesh for a Masters in Social Work that I knew, I wanted to work for the people," says Ahmad. Incidentally, during this time, he nearly left academics in the first semester, after he landed a job in Qatar. "But despite financial trouble, my father insisted that I study. He believed that education was the way forward."

At TISS, Ahmad's political aspirations took flight after he was elected to the executive body last August. While his term ends in two months, Ahmad, who created a stir earlier in May when he refused to accept his PhD degree at the TISS convocation, has already planned to campaign across colleges and universities to enlist student support towards his cause. That Ahmad is a Muslim and belongs to the OBC strata, sometimes puts him at a disadvantage. "In the current environment, anyone who challenges authority is termed anti-national. My parents are obviously worried and anxious for me. But I think these are only tactics of instilling fear in us."

He received his biggest compliment recently from the students at a city college. "They told me they had thought that student politics was as good as dead in Mumbai. But after meeting me, they feel differently."

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