Struggling Against The Odds: A One-Man Mission
Nigar Ataulla, January 13, 2008

Riazuddin Ahmed lost his parents and a sister in the ghastly Nellie Massacre. But he has fought against all odds to revive the spirit to live. He has set up COMTI, a one man mission to compile biographies of Indian Muslim personalities whose contributions need to be remembered by the society.


On the night of the18th of February, 1983, over 1800 people were hacked to death in the obscure village of Nellie in Assam's Morigaon district. Their bodies were left lying among the dry paddy fields. The victims of the massacre were Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The notorious Nellie incident took place during the anti-'foreigners' movement led by the AASU (All Assam Students Union) and the AAGSP (All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad) from 1979 to 1985. The massacre was
directly triggered off by the central government's decision to hold the state legislative assembly elections, which invited a boycott by the movement leaders. As a result of confrontations between supporters and opponents of the election, there were numerous violent incidents among communities in the early part of 1983. The worst incident was the Nellie massacre.

Relatives of victims of the Nellie massacre hold on to the tragic memory of witnessing their near and dear ones being hacked to death. It is just a few, or rather one in a thousand, who have struggled to put this past behind them and reconstruct their own lives as well as gear up to work for the society and community.

Riazuddin Ahmed is one such survivor from Nellie who has battled against all odds in a heart-wrenching struggle. Born in Nellie in 1980, Riazuddin's father was a Bengali- speaking cultivator who owned a small patch of land. His was a very happy family, he recalls, with three brothers and two sisters and a loving mother who doted on the
kids.

"I was only three years old then. My family was not Bangladeshi, we only spoke Bengali and that is why, we too were targeted. I remember it was a Friday, and suddenly a mob came and began burning all the houses. My parents and my younger sister were killed in this incident. Being only three years old then, I remembered nothing, but I can still recall the smell of the rotten bodies," says Riazuddin.

Riazuddin's eldest sister was married before the massacre, while Riazuddin and his younger brother were shifted to a nearby temporary relief camp. Two months later, they were sent to the SOS Children's Village at Hajoi, a town in Assam. SOS Children's Villages of India is a non-profit, non-government, voluntary organization, committed to the care of children in need. The aim and objective of SOS-India is to provide long term family based care to orphaned children and to strengthen disadvantaged families as a preventive measure against
abandonment and social neglect of children.

At the SOS Village, Riazuddin was taken care of, along with 12 other children, by a Hindu widow, Makan Saikia, who became his 'mother'. Altogether, there were 20 houses in the Village. Most of the children in these houses were Muslim orphans from Nellie, but there were Hindu children as well, and they lived together as a large single family.

"I lived in the SOS House in Hajoi for 25 years and completed my pre-university in science in the Hajoi College. All this was paid for by the SOS Children's Village. In 2005, I completed the four-year B. Pharma course from Al-Ameen College, Bangalore, supported by SOS, and then worked for a year with a press" says Riazuddin, who now works for the well-known Dr. Reddy's Laboratories.

People often turn bitter towards life when the world gives them a raw deal. Riazuddin has been through a trauma of losing his parents and a younger sister, but that has not made him lose heart. Today, Riazuddin not only has turned a professional in his field, but also is the founder of COMTI (Contributions of Muslims Towards India Research Foundation Trust).

What prompted him to set up COMTI?

"In 2002, I was in Al-Ameen College. I had heard about the Aligarh Muslim University and was very eager to know more about its founder. That is how I got interested in collecting biographies of Muslim personalities who had contributed to society. I started by doing a chart on the Muslim freedom fighters. I had a little spare money and
printed a chart with it describing some Muslim heroes, which I distributed to my friends and others", Riazuddin explains.

"I visited many book shops. I loved reading but could not afford to buy the books", he goes on. "I encouraged my classmates to read. I collected some biographies of noted Indian Muslim personalities from the Book Trust of India. I held an exhibition of these and other similar books in Al-Ameen College, and my friends. I wondered why
Muslims, who have contributed so much in many fields in India and the world, are forgotten, and younger generation Muslims are not aware of their works. That is what triggered in me the spark to compile their biographies as a source of inspiration for the younger generation", he says.

Riazuddin has so far compiled and published five books, including on the founder of the Al-Ameen Movement, Dr Mumtaz Ahmed Khan, on Sir Mirza Ismail, Dewan of Mysore, on " Lalbagh" that narrates the contribution of Hyder Ali, on Marmaduke Pickthall and Yusuf Ali, noted translators of the Holy Quran and on Yasser Arafat. "My next book will be on Tara Ali Baig, the first president of SOS Children's Village Society in India," he says.

Riazuddin's mission is a one man crusade. His future plans include setting up a research centre where photographs of past and present Muslim personalities and biographies on them will be displayed.

Zooming around Bangalore on his bike, one could easily miss Riazuddin's small and short frame. But with a mind full of ideas and a heart filled with hope to dig up stories of Muslim personalities, his zeal is inspiring for others.

Losing parents and a sister in a ghastly attack is a nightmare not easy to forget. But Riazuddin has fought against all odds to revive the spirit to live and contribute so much to the society and the community. His backpack contains pharmaceutical supplies that cure the sick…this is his bread and butter. But for his soul, he wants to sacrifice his time, money and intellect to script glorious biographies of Muslim men and women who did their best for society.

“I know I have lost a lot, but I have gained so much by doing my bit for the society and community," says Riazuddin with a smile.


Riazuddin can be reached at riazuddinster@gmail.com