Giving Everyone a Voice
Akhtarul Wasey works to protect the rights of linguistic minorities.
Protecting the civil liberties of minorities is a tireless fight; one that needs outspoken champions at its forefront.
Akhtarul Wasey is one such champion, protecting the voices of linguistic minorities in India. Appointed Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities in India by President Pranab Mukherjee in March 2014, Wasey oversees all Constitutional protections and safeguards provided to speakers of non-majority languages in every state. The job is challenging, he says, “because of the linguistic diversity and sensitivity” in India.
“A language which is spoken by the majority in a particular state, with a change of geographical location, becomes the language of minority speakers,” says Wasey.
Balancing the interests of the majority with the rights of various minorities requires top-notch conflict resolution skills. Wasey has honed these skills and it is evident from the honors and distinctions he has earned. He was conferred the Padma Shri award in 2013 for his work in the field of literature and education.
Wasey’s academic work focuses on Islamic studies. He has written and spoken about the importance of interfaith dialogue and about the pluralism inherent to the Indian Muslim community.
Wasey was one of the chief guests at the launch of the U.S. Embassy’s Urdu website in November 2014. “Through Urdu we can spread the message of love,” he said at the event. “In a world that is full of differences and terror, if love has to prevail then it has to be through languages.”
Wasey’s focus on peace, as well as protection and promotion of Indian Muslims, has taken him to the United States several times. In 2008, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, one of the first in Islamic studies. His projects led to affiliations with several American schools, including Temple University in Philadelphia, Xavier University in Cincinnati, University of Denver and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The Fulbright followed Wasey’s participation in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in 2000. Through the IVLP, Wasey examined prevention diplomacy and conflict resolution. He visited government institutions in Washington, D.C. as well as universities across the country.
During the IVLP exchange, Wasey and other participants “deliberated, discussed and debated the issues that are threatening peace at micro and macro levels, and what should be the ways and methods to ensure peace through the resolution of conflicts,” he says.
Wasey found the discussions productive and the participants open to expression and consideration of contrary views. This practice of honoring different perspectives is something he has applied to conflict resolution back home, and he finds it relevant on so many levels.
“Conflicts may not always be at regional or international level, but they can be in your family and workplaces as well,” he says.
No matter where the conflict is, Wasey credits his IVLP experience with giving him a new way to look at problems. “One should be patient,” he says, “but, at the same time, decisive, to a great extent objective and simultaneously sympathetic to the other party involved.”
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.