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A fire that destroyed over 11,000 books collected by Syed Ishaq from his meagre earnings, in the early hours of Friday at India’s Rajiv Nagar near Delhi, triggered widespread condemnation and efforts by the civil society to help rebuild his dream of spreading knowledge.

Ishaq, a daily wager, had collected a variety of books in different languages, including general knowledge books and religious books such the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Koran in Kannada, which he made available for residents of Rajiv Nagar locality to read on the premises of the library situated on government land.

Though unlettered himself, Ishaq, 63, had a lot of respect for books. “Out of his meagre earnings, he used to subscribe to 22 daily newspapers to his library for the benefit of the locals,” said Khaisar Safdar, a journalist with an Urdu daily who often visited the library set up in 2011.

Ishaq, who earns a living by doing odd jobs, including cleaning drains, was so passionate about spreading knowledge that he would himself sweep the library every day and maintain a register of visitors.

Ishaq suspects miscreants who were opposed to his propagation of Kannada language to be behind the wicked act, saying “It is the handiwork of enemies of Kannada. They conspired to destroy the collection of books.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Prakash Gowda said they have registered an FIR based on Ishaq’s complaint. Preliminary inquiries had revealed that his activities were not liked by a few people and there had been efforts earlier to destroy the library.

Muzaffar Assadi, chairman of the Department of Political Science, University of Mysore, said the act of destroying a library set up by a poor man in and around slum areas for the purpose of inter-faith dialogue and disseminating knowledge was condemnable.

“I have made an appeal for books rather than money because we have to send a signal to the perpetrators that knowledge cannot be destroyed,” he said. Already, Assadi said, his appeal had elicited response from different parts of the country including Gurgaon, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

Source: The Hindu