Nothing could stop Taher Poonawala from fighting injustice, not even a boycott
Taher Poonawala’s decision to donate his body for medical research instead of following customs and traditions was in the true spirit of the ideas he espoused all his life. Once a staunch follower of the Dawoodi Bohra high priest, Taherbhai took on the flag of revolt when he realised there were, what he claimed, objectionable practices in the community.pune Updated: Aug 02, 2017 10:26 IST
Well-known Bohra Muslim reformist, rationalist and progressive thinker Taher Poonawala’s decision to donate his body for medical research instead of following customs and traditions was in the true spirit of the ideas he espoused all his life.
Once a staunch follower of the Dawoodi Bohra high priest, Taherbhai took on the flag of revolt when he realised there were, what he claimed, objectionable practices in the community. As happened with others like him, he, faced a boycott from the community around five decades ago. Taherbhai faced the hardships, but never compromised his values and principles till his last breath.
The day after Taherbhai was cut adrift, all his employees at his hardware shop in Pune’s Bohri Aali walked out without any notice. But Taherbhai never compromised and ran the shop despite facing many difficulties. He showed the same courage till the end.
Social activist Anvar Rajan recalled how Taherbhai was not allowed to attend a public meeting called by the Nathani Commission which was appointed by the government in 1978 to look into the various allegations made against the Bohra high priest.
As a rationalist and a member of the progressive community of Pune, Taherbhai was associated with several like-minded organisations like Mahatma Phule Samata Pratishthan, Rashtriya Eakatmata Samiti, Samajik Krutadnyata Nidhi and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Dr Baba Adhav, who led a movement for people in unorganised sectors, said Taherbhai, along with thinkers and community leaders like Dr Satyaranjan Sathe, R P Nene, Nanda Naralkar and others widened the platform of the PUCL. While Dr Sathe would focus on ideological issues, Taherbhai was adept at organisational skills.
“There was a deeply- rooted human being in Taherbhai. He was a democrat in the true spirit. Despite being boycotted by the community, he helped a number of people of the same community,” Rajan said.
Taherbhai had friends in all walks of life thanks to his nature. Friends like Dr Shreeram Lagoo, Nilu Phule and Raj Kapoor from the world of films were close friends. He played a small role in Raj Kapoor’s famous movie ‘Bobby’ out of friendship.
Taherbhai’s body was donated to the Dr Sane Guruji Hospital in Hadapsar. A number of his well wishers and friends from social movements were present.
What they say:
“Taherbhai was an open and gracious person. Truly a democrat. He had fierce debates with friends on several occasions, but friendships continued. It is not a small thing to sustain a boycott from a powerful community. Taherbhai survived it because of conviction and deep faith in human values. He started looking at human life with widened perception,” Dr Baba Adhav, social activist.
“Taherbhai helped all needy people despite his own problems. He was a ‘zabardast’ worker; an ideal for all workers in the social reformation movement. He never compromised ideologically or in action. Many people changed over time but Taherbhai remained the same because of his deep faith in human values. I met him a few days back in his Model Colony bungalow. He had stopped eating and drinking, but he waved at me. He was a great human being,” Sayyedbhai, Muslim Satyashodhak.