Harsh Mander is a human rights and peace worker, writer, columnist, researcher and teacher, who works with survivors of mass violence, hunger, homeless persons and street children.
He recently organized a campaign of continuing journeys of solidarity and conscience to families affected by hate violence across India, called Karwan e Mohabbat or a Caravan of Love.
His books include:
- ‘Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India’, Published by Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2019.
- ‘Between Memory and Forgetting: Massacre and the Modi Years in Gujarat’, published by Yoda Press, New Delhi, 2019.
- ‘Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India’, published by Speaking Tiger, 2015.
- ‘Reconciliation: Karwan e Mohabbat’s Journey of Solidarity Through a Wounded India’ (co-authored), published by Westland Publications, Chennai, 2018.
- ‘Fatal Accidents of Birth: Stories of Suffering, Oppression and Resistance’, published by Speaking Tiger, 2016.
- ‘Fractured Freedom: Chronicles from India’s Margins’, published by Three Essays Collective, 2012.
- ‘Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle against Hunger’, published by Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013.
- ‘Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives’, published by Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2001.
- ‘Fear and Forgiveness: The Aftermath of Massacre’, published by Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2009.
- ‘Untouchability in Rural India’ (co-authored), published by Sage Publications India, New Delhi, 2006.
His real-life stories have been adapted for films, such as Shyam Benegal’s Samar, and for Mallika Sarabhai’s dance drama Unsuni.
Mander 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 of the Centre for Equity Studies, he founded, convenes and edits the annual India Exclusion Report.. These attempt to document the experience of disadvantaged people of the state; and on evidence-based analysis and advocacy for more just and equitable laws and policies. http://indiaexclusionreport.in/
He regularly writes columns for Scroll, the Indian Express. The Hindu and the Wire, and has written a fortnightly column for more than 12 years for the Hindu and the Hindustan Times. He also contributes frequently to scholarly journals.
Harsh Mander teaches courses on poverty and governance at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, the Open Society Internship for Rights and Governance in the European University; and the India Leaders for Social Sector, among others. His past teaching assignments include the LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie; and the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi; St Stephen’s College, Delhi, the Centre for Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi; and NALSAR (National Academy for Law) Hyderabad. He writes and speaks regularly on issues of social justice.
He has delivered the inaugural Centre of South Asian Studies Lecture on South Asian Public Affairs of Cambridge University. He has also lectured at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco; the Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK; ISS in the Hague; MIT, Boston, UCLA, Universities of Stanford, Washington (Stanford), Austin, and several others.
As a Member of the Prime Minister’s National Advisory Council from June 2010-12, Mander convened the working groups on the Food Security Bill, Urban Poverty and Homelessness, Disability Rights, Bonded Labour, Street Vendors and Urban Slums, Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill, Child Labour Abolition, Manual Scavenging Abolition, and co-convened the groups on the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, Dalits and Minorities, Tribal Rights, among others.
He was the 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. During this period, his work was noted most of all for taking sides with the most dispossessed populations of the country, with leprosy patients, survivors of communal and caste violence, persons displaced by large development projects, and for implementation of land reforms restoring land dispossessed from tribal people. 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 was also the Chairperson of the committee of the Government of India for suggesting ways to make the Urban Health Mission to make it work for urban poor people. He was also on various national official National Committees such as on Social Protection and both the Saxena Committee for Rural BPL and Hashim Committee for Urban BPL. He was a Member of the Core Groups on Bonded Labour and Mental Hospitals of the statutory National Human Rights Commission. He was founder Chairperson of the State Health Resource Centre, Chhattisgarh, which established the Mitanin Community Health Programme, which was the fore-runner of the national Asha Programme for country-wide community health workers.
Harsh Mander 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. His latest petition was filed against the detention of people deemed to be ‘foreigners’ in jails in inhuman conditions in Assam for nearly a decade.
He is a founding member of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information. He is also a founding member of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy). He is one of the convenors of the Idea of India Collective to respond to the attacks on India’s secular democracy. He is also a Member of the Ara Pacis Initiative in Rome aimed to launch an active reflection on forgiveness as a moral, spiritual and political tool for achieving reconciliation among peoples. From October, 1999 to March 2004, worked as Country Director, ActionAid India, a development support organization. He is Patron of the Sanjivini Society for Mental Health, and Chairperson of INCENSE (The Inclusion and Empowerment of People with Severe Mental Disorders). He is associated with social causes and movements, such for communal harmony and justice, homeless people and bonded labour tribal, Dalit, child and disability rights.
He worked for four years as Country Director of Action Aid India, from 1999-2004. This tenure was also noted for several interventions related to most vulnerable groups: bonded workers, homeless persons, street children, manual scavengers, single women, survivors of severe natural disasters, persons abandoned in mental hospitals, and several others.
He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Human Rights Initiative of the Open Society Foundations.
Mander also founded a campaign to work with homeless persons and street children, now run by the Rainbow Foundation India, through which around 5000 homeless street girls and boys, by providing them safe spaces are being provided safe spaces as residential hostels in mostly running government schools in 10 cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Patna, Pune, Anantpur and (in progress) Ranchi. These are a unique model in which state governments are persuaded to open up government schools to be redeployed as residential hostels for street children; and in these the children are provided bridge education to enable them to join regular schools; counselling; nutrition; health-care. This is now perhaps the largest street child initiative in the country, and has become part of government policy.
In Delhi, Patna, Hyderabad and Jaipur, he founded and heads an initiative which helps run extensive street medicine programs to reach homeless women, men and children on the streets with health-care services, with health teams on foot and in vans at night. It has also opened recovery shelters for homeless men and women with TB, orthopaedic ailments, mental health problems and reproductive health challenges, recognizing that cure on the streets for homeless persons in impossible. For TB patients, if they don’t have homes and families, there is no option except to die on the streets. For these patients, they take them in for around 9 months, and gives them medicine and nutrition until they are fully recovered. He plans to start a similar intervention for pregnant homeless women, who we would shelter again for 9 months. He also assist homeless persons with their basic entitlements, as also their basic needs such as clothes, blankets, toiletries and sanitary napkins.
Harsh Mander 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.
In 2017, Mander established and led the important national initiative 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, a wide-based, collaborative civil society initiative of independent individuals, people’s organisations and social movements, visits in their homes the families of those who lost loved ones to hate violence and lynching. It undertakes these journeys for atonement, solidarity, healing, conscience and justice with people who were targets of hate attacks across our wounded land. It attempts to offer a garland of empathy across many parts of India – a tiny lamp lit amidst a tempest of hate.
The purpose of these voyages in these times of rising hate, across those parts of India most severely ravaged by lynching was twofold: to respond with solidarity to the everyday fear that has settled in the hearts of Muslims, Dalits and Christians, and to challenge and break the worrying silence of the majority with a call of conscience. In each of the journeys, the members of the Karwan sought forgiveness and offered solidarity to the victim families, and tried to assess how it was coping and what it needed for livelihood, psycho-social care and pursuit of justice.
With an exceptional group of volunteers – writers, journalists, social workers, teachers, lawyers – it has intersected distant corners of India, Mander has led an on-going process of chronicling through books, films, photo exhibitions and public talks the rise of hate and fear that the team bore witness to during the Karwan, to inform and appeal to the public conscience.