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A Gandhian in our midst

This retired IIT professor believes he is bringing change by distributing pamphlets across Delhi-NCR

A 71-year-old man is seen distributing pamphlets across Delhi amid the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. When he hands some pamphlets to Delhi Police personnel, an officer started abusing him but the old man who is high on patience and retorts, “You don’t have to be a slave of any government; be human first and feel the pain of others.”

The old man is Vipin Kumar Tripathi, a retired IIT-Delhi professor on a mission to bring a change in society through education and awareness. Professor Tripathi started the activity of distributing pamphlets in July 1990 after the Bhagalpur riots, which jolted him from within. During this period, he was in the United States where he formed a Forum for Secular Indians which was later named as ‘Sadbhav Mission’.

His pamphlets contain condemnations of the government’s policies or activities and possible solutions, while stating facts and eradicating myths and fake information.

Prof Tripathi’s father was a freedom fighter and used to be associated with Mahatma Gandhi, from which stems his own ideological leanings. “But until 1982, I wasn’t much interested in politics and neither had I any political viewpoint. But when Israel attacked Lebanon and around 20,000 people were killed, I thought I must quit America where I was teaching at the time, as the US was supporting Israel.”

He taught his children to “liberate yourself from religious prejudices and discriminatory tactics in any form.” Prof Tripathi started treading the Gandhian path since then and also credits his teacher Ahmed Baksh, whom he refers to as a “messenger of harmony”.

In October 1990, when BJP started its Rath Yatra with Lal Krishna Advani as the star performer, Prof Tripathi introduced his Aatm Manthan Yatra from Rajghat wherein he along with some volunteers and other supporters distributed around 4,000 flyers across Delhi.

One of his methods to educate the less privileged is to organise workshops for students and teachers on mathematics or other subjects and also mobilise them to learn the socio-cultural aspect of life. He targets only those areas or cities
where exam results have been very poor or there has been some riot or communal tension.

Post the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Professor Tripathi asserts, “Muslims and even Hindus were scared and a complete trust deficit was visible amongst the people in society and the administration. I decided to distribute my flyers across the country and wrote “Desh mein hinsa” (Violence in country) as the title of the pamphlet. To everyone’s surprise, around 40,000 flyers were distributed.”

Tripathi used to visit every nook and corner of the neighbourhood which was hit by riots after the incident. In 1992, when he visited Welcome Colony in Delhi to distribute his flyers, the situation was still tense and he was immediately surrounded by around 200 people. Now the DCP approached Prof Tripathi and asked him to leave immediately, while people started agreeing with his flyer.

Tripathi says his motive in visiting places which are riot hit was only “to subdue that hatred and fill it with education, liberty, love and awareness.”

Since 1989, he says, “Ayodhya has become an epicentre of religious hatred between Hindus and Muslims.”

Tripathi also criticises the 1991 economic reform, not for globalising trade as such reform was mandatory but “It was an economic step, yet in some way it also opened a path for communalism in our country where industrialists and corporates became the headmaster and the administration, media and politicians became the puppets in their hand.” He terms 90% of industrialists and businessmen “communal” with an anecdote.

Tripathi visited Prayas Balgrah in Delhi (jail cum reform centre for juvenile criminals) where he held a 40-minute meeting with 30 boys, and realised that one-third of the kids were Muslims. The one message he gave them was, “Even if you kill your parents you might be forgiven but never ever kill or harm someone on the basis of religious hatred. I have also committed crimes like beating up my siblings and eating their food but the difference was mine was never reported. I have seen some children getting arrested and brought to these reform centres but were bailed out by Hindu or Muslim businessmen/musclemen respectively and thereafter, these big men ask those kids to stone people of the other religion whenever any riot takes place; don’t fall in that trap ever.”

When asked about changes he has seen pre-2014 and post-2014, Prof Tripathi elucidated, “Earlier nobody used to abuse me or threaten me: countering happened on the basis of facts and debates. But these days, there is some sense of aggression among most of the individuals and there also seems to be a competition to send everyone to Pakistan and label them as ‘anti-national’”.

Describing an incident which occurred near the IIT Delhi flyover recently, Prof Tripathi says, “Half a kilometre before Moolchand, a person came out of a car, snatched the bunch of 100 flyers and said, “Desh ke khilaf parche baant raha hai, kisne diye hain, bataa.” (Distributing fliers against the nation. Tell me, who has given you these)?

I said, “I have written these, what is the problem?”

He said, “Pakistani, gaddari karta hai, boodha na hota to teri aisi pitaayee karta…” (Pakistani, doing treachery! Had you not been old, I would have given you a good thrashing). I said, “Son, you can still beat me but tell what anti-national have I written?” He uttered a few abuses. Around that time three policemen arrived on motorbikes. One had my flyer. He said, “Someone has given me this flyer and he was also unhappy. Stop distributing them.”

I said, “I can stop but please read it, you will feel it strengthens national unity.” The car owner told the police to file an FIR against me and left. One policeman was nice. He enquired what is my profession and politely asked me not to distribute the pamphlets as people were objecting. Then I left. After walking another half kilometre, I distributed a few flyers and then took a bus to return home.” The fliers were about Article 370 being revoked in Kashmir.

Tripathi talks to students, rickshaw puller, shopkeepers, chaiwalahs and try to cut the clutter from various aspects of any policy which the government comes up with. His flyers remain apolitical and strictly according to facts. In his words, “This kind of polarisation is very harmful and we need to approach every individual to keep a check over his/her conscience and remove prejudices of every kind.” He reveals that he returned from Aligarh Muslim University on December 24 which has been badly affected by the police action against the Citizenship Amendment Act protesters.

Unlike other activists, through science, secularism and non-violence, Delhi has its own Gandhi walking down the lanes, talking and distributing flyers which are actually teaching humanity over hatred and facts over myths.