Harsh Mander, human rights and peace worker, writer, columnist, researcher and teacher, works with survivors of mass violence, hunger, homeless persons and street children.
His books include: ‘Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India’; ‘Locking Down the Poor: The Pandemic and India’s Moral Centre’; ‘Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India’; and ‘Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle against Hunger’.
He is a PhD from Vrije University in Amsterdam. His thesis was titled Vulnerable People and Policy Development in India: Designing State Interventions for Hunger, Homelessness, Destitution and Targeted Violence. As the Director, Centre for Equity Studies, he founded, convenes and edits the annual India Exclusion Report. He teaches courses on poverty and governance in Indian and international universities. He has been awarded the Richard von Weizsacker Fellowship by the Robert Bosch Academy. He regularly writes columns for Scroll, the Indian Express. The Hindu and the Wire, and also contributes frequently to scholarly journals.
As Member of the Prime Minister’s National Advisory Council from June 2010-12, he convened many working groups including on the Food Security Bill, Disability Rights, Bonded Labour, Street Vendors, Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill, Manual Scavenging Abolition, and co-convened the group on the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill.
He was Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the Right to Food case for twelve years from 2005-17. In these 12 years, he investigated for the Supreme Court starvation deaths, and reviewed implementation and directed public policy reform for advancing the right to food and nutrition in several states in India.
He worked formerly in the Indian Administrative Service in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for almost two decades. He took voluntary retirement from the civil services in 2002 in protest against the role of the state in the communal massacre in Gujarat, which he believed to be state-sponsored.
He has made many significant interventions in India’s highest courts. For instance, his petition to decriminalize beggary was allowed, which ended begging as a crime after nearly a hundred years. His petition in the Supreme Court resulted in the reopening for investigation of over 2000 criminal cases related to the Gujarat carnage of 2002 which had been closed without trial. A series of his interventions in the Supreme Court as Commissioner led to orders making homeless shelters a legal duty for all state governments. He petitioned against the detention of people deemed to be ‘foreigners’ in jails in inhuman conditions in Assam for nearly a decade; for legal action against perpetrators of hate speech resulting in sectarian violence; and for food security of migrants during the covid pandemic.
He is the founder of Aman Biradari, a people’s campaign for a secular, peaceful, just and humane world, established after the Gujarat communal carnage of 2002. Aman Biradari works closely with other people’s organizations and groups for the defence of secularism; for public compassion; and for promoting the values of the constitution.
From the autumn of 2017, he established and led the important national initiative which he called the Karwan e Mohabbat, or Caravan of Love, to try to counter rising hate and fear in the country, but not with hate; instead with love and solidarity. The Karwan visits the families of those who lost loved ones to hate violence and lynching, for atonement, solidarity, healing, conscience and justice.
In the following interview, Harsh Mander discusses lynchings in India.