Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art, John Ruskin once said. If we go by that definition, one name that comes to mind who has contributed to the nation’s three manuscripts of deeds, words and art is Riaz A. Tehsin - a distinguished humanitarian, an educationist par excellence and a preeminent patron of culture and arts.
Born on 20 September 1938 in a progressive family of Udaipur (Rajasthan), Riaz Tehsin was the son of the then Vice Mayor Shri T. H. Tehsin, who later officiated as the Acting Mayor of the Udaipur Municipal Corporation. A social worker and nature lover, T. H. Tehsin was also an associate of Manikya Lal Verma and Mohan Lal Sukhadia during the Independence Movement.
Riaz Tehsin’s inspiration in childhood was not only his father but also his mother, Khursheed Banu, who, in spite of having a severe disability, worked for the emancipation of women. She was the Vice President of the Rajasthan Branch of All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), of which Maharani Gayatri Devi was the President.
Riaz Tehsin’s distinguished character, which saw its beginnings in the caring upbringing provided by his parents, was supported by Vidya Bhawan School, an institution with a vision. His interest in arts, culture, literature and social work was stimulated from his school days. He graduated from Aligarh Muslim University, and did his Masters in Geology from Rajasthan University.
Following his literary penchant, Riaz Tehsin organised the first All India Mushaira at Udaipur in 1967, which included participants like Kaifee Azami, Nazeer Banarasi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kunwar Mahender Singh Bedi ‘Sahar’.
As President of Old Boys Association (founded in 1934) of Vidya Bhawan School, one of the oldest Alumni Association of India, he published a book ‘Crisis of Changing India’ in 1975, which was released by the erstwhile Chief Minister of Rajasthan and then Governor of Mysore Mohan Lal Sukhadia.
In 1984, inspired by Shri Brij Kishore Chandiwala (a close associate of Gandhiji), Riaz Tehsin gave up synthetic clothing and adopted Khadi, which he continued to wear till his last days. Riaz Tehsin activated Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF) centre in Udaipur. He first worked as its Treasurer, then as Vice-President and finally its President.
In 1987, under the auspice of Gandhi Peace Foundation and Lisle Fellowship (USA), Shri Riaz went to ‘Vishwaneedam Gandhi Ashram’ situated near Bangalore and worked with tribals along with Dr. R. R. Diwakar. Under the same programme, he went to Rosebud Reservation, South Dacota, U.S.A. in 1988 to work with Native Americans (Red Indians). He lived in Gandhi Ashram Wardha in connection with G.P.F. programmes. Later, as ‘Sarvodaya Mitra’, he worked with Bhu-dani and Gram-dani farmers around Udaipur.
Recognising his service to the community, the Head of Bohra Community, His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, conferred him the title of ‘N.K.D.’ – one of the highest honours given by His Holiness.
Riaz Tehsin was the Founder of Udaipur Chapter of Anjuman Taraqui Urdu (Hind). Under this he organised various literary activities in Udaipur. These include the 1984 Seminar on the ‘Role of Urdu in Indian Independence Movement’ and Mushaira, which was attended by Kaifee Azami, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Nazeer Banarasi, ‘Padam Shri’ Bekal Utsahi, Dr. Waseem Barelvi, Dr. Malikzada Manzoor among others.
In 1990, Dr. L. M. Singhvi, the then President of Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal - a folk art institute founded by ‘Padam Shri’ Devi Lal Samar – requested Riaz Tehsin to take up the responsibility of Honorary Secretary, Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal. Apart from several cultural activities in India and abroad from 1990 till the time of his death on 18 August 2021, he was closely associated with publications which include ‘Lok’ (an academic exercise in folk culture), quarterly journal ‘Rangayan’ and a compilation of folk songs released by the then President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma in Rashtrapati Bhawan in 1994. Riaz later served as the Vice-President of Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal.
In the 1970s and 80s, Riaz Tehsin contributed regularly to leading national magazines such as ‘Dharmayug’, ‘Kadambini’, ‘Sarita’ on cultural and environmental issues.
From 1980 to 1993, Riaz played a key role in the resurrection movement of Vidya Bhawan Society, which was founded in 1931 by ‘Padama Vibhushan’ Dr. Mohan Singh Mehta. Former Education Minister of India ‘Padma Vibhushan’ Dr. Kalu Lal Shrimali has also been the founder and President of Vidya Bhawan Society. In 1993, Riaz Tehsin became Vice-President with ‘Padma Vibhushan’ Prof. Jagat Singh Mehta (former Foreign Secretary, Govt. Of India) as President and remained Vice-President till 2005. The ideals of Vidya Bhawan Society include 'un-common' education to common people and to build responsible citizens through equitable education to all strata of society. Out of about 5000 students in different institutions of VBS around 58% students belong to the tribal, minorities and deprived sections of society.
Riaz Tehsin was twice elected the President of Vidya Bhawan Society – in 2005 and 2010 for a period of five years each. He finished his second term as President of Vidhya Bhawan Society in 2015, passing on the baton to Ajay Singh Mehta. After that, he served as a member of the Board of Control of the Society till his demise. Since 1993, the institutions under Vidya Bhawan Society have doubled with additions such as Education Resource Centre (working with NCERT and 6 state governments), Vidya Bhawan Prakriti Sadhna Kendra (inaugurated by Noble Laureate Dr. R. K. Pachauri on 19th August, 2009), Gandhian Institute of Teacher’s Training, Vidya Bhawan Public School, Institute of Local Self Government and Responsible Citizenship (trained around 10,000 Elected Representatives of Panchayati Raj so far), S.T.C. Training Centre and a handmade paper unit attached to Vidya Bhawan Basic School.
Vidya Bhawan Society has been organising national and international seminars on education. These include ‘Construction of Knowledge’, ‘Language, Music, Mathematics and Society’ etc.
Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Hon'ble President of India, on her visit remarked about Vidya Bhawan, "विद्या भवन की नींव महात्मा गांधी के तत्वों के मुताबिक रखी गई थीं। ज़माना बहुत आगे बढ़ गया है, बदल भी गया है, मगर आज भी इन तत्वों पर अपनी शिक्षा को आगे चलाना उतना ही प्रासंगिक है जितना उस ज़माने में था। विद्या भवन ज़माने की रफ्तार को ध्यान में रखते हुए मूल्यों तथा ग्रामीण विकास को ध्यान में रखते हुए आज भी बहुत बड़ा कार्य कर रहा है। श्री जगत मेहता जी के, तथा रियाज़ तहसीन साहब के मार्गदर्शन में यहाँ का काम सराहनीय है। मैं यहाँ का काम तथा पंचायतराज ट्रैनिंग का कार्य देख कर बहुत प्रभावित हुई हूँ।"
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Vidya Bhawan Society on 21st July 2006 observed,”Vidya Bhawan is one of our proud symbols of good citizenship. It has inspired generations of concerned citizens to step forward and contribute to social development. I bow my head to all those who have contributed to the empowerment of our people and the progress of our nation.”
In 1995, ‘Padam Vibhushan’ Shri Komal Kothari, the then President of Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Academy, included Riaz Tehsin as Executive Member. He served thrice as Executive Member including a term as Treasurer. The budget allocation to the Academy was more than doubled during his term as Treasurer.
Apart from this, Shri Riaz has contributed as Executive Member and Member of Advisory Committee of Seva Mandir – a renowned organisation working on rural development.
He was also the Executive Member of Dr. Mohan Sinha Mehta Memorial Trust, which is engaged in dialogue on volunteerism and responsible citizenship.
All the cultural, educational and social services rendered by Riaz Tehsin for five decades were voluntary and without any remuneration or perks of any kind. He had been doing his bit with conviction, without looking for any reward or recognition. For his subsistence, he ran a small scale industry namely M/s. Tehsin Ecoplas Pvt. Ltd., an eco-friendly recycling unit which not only sustained his large joint family, but also provided livelihood to rag-pickers and tribals.
Riaz Tehsin has also carried forward the family tradition of several pioneering contributions to the economy of Southern Rajasthan. His grandfather Shri A. K. Tehsin established the first industry of Mewar in the early 20th Century. His father Shri T. H. Tehsin was pioneer in mining in Mewar around the time of independence. Riaz established the first plastic processing industry of Southern Rajasthan in 1970.
Riaz Tehsin nourished the roots of our culture, folk art, literature, industry, literacy, environment and economy in a unique way. He was a visionary who strived and succeeded to expand the horizons of freedom of thought, which measures the growth of any society.