Who Was Prof Riyaz Punjabi?

SRINAGAR: Prof Riyaz Punjab, a foremost academician, who headed the University of Kashmir for about four years, died at his Delhi residence. He was suffering from cancer for many years. He was almost 75.

Professor Riyaz Punjabi

Dr Punjabi is survived by two sons, Miraan and Badraan and their mother, Dr Tarannum Riyaz, one of Kashmir’s best fiction writers and female poets. He was basically from Shah Mohalla in Nawab Bazar. He was born on August 12, 1946.

Alumni of SP College Srinagar, he studied law at the AMU and started his carrier at the University of Kashmir as a lecturer. After being elevated to the position of Reader, Punjabi was later appointed to be head of the Department of Distance education.

After the militancy erupted and a top militant was killed in the house of one of his relatives somewhere in uptown Srinagar, Prof Punjabi migrated to Delhi. He was attached to the Jawahar Lal Nehru University and remained associated with the Centre for International Studies as a Professor.

While in Delhi, Punjabi established a think-tank in 1994  and named it the Centre for Peace Studies. It would encourage researches and debate on human rights, peace, spiritual unity and human brotherhood. This group later became the International Centre for Peace Studies and sustains itself on voluntary contributions and donations. Under this NGO, Dr Punjabi was publishing a quarterly Journal of Peace Studies since 1994.

His Delhi sojourn witnessed his contributions being acknowledged. He was awarded Padma Shri in 2011 in the category of literature and education, Amity Excellence Award by the Amity University in 2009, besides Fazil Memorial and Adbi Markaz Kamraz awards. In 2008, he was given Honorary Professorship of international university Vienna also for his contribution in “Strengthening International Relations in the Sphere of Education”. The same year, he was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, a position he retained till 2011.

People in the know of things give Prof Punjabi the credit for the expansion of the University of Kashmir when he raised a loan to acquire a vast landed estate of a local businessman.

“The ‘King VC’ Prof Riyaz Punjabi calls it a day! “Yes as proposed” was his usual disposal on proposals submitted to him, as he had full trust on (sic) his colleagues,” academic Shahid Rasool wrote on Facebook. “His contribution to Kashmir University as VC is tremendous and exemplary! He took bold decisions, at times much against the wishes of many. The present IOT Zakura campus is the result of one of his decisions. A visionary who spoke with confidence on any topic during seminars and conferences.”

His JNU colleague and friend, Prof Amitabh Mattoo wrote: “Professor Riyaz Punjabi passes away. Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, a deeply loyal personal friend, a great champion of Kashmiriyat and the idea of India, Riyaz Sahib stood out as a beacon of light in the dark turmoil of the 1990s. Will be missed for his humanity and for his larger than life persona by his friends and admirers. RIP”

Prof Punjabi was always busy in Kashmir while being in Delhi. He was one of the key aides who accompanied Dr Farooq Abdullah in 1995 to Geneva.

He had married once before he met Tarannum, then a Radio newscaster and one of the best poets and short-story writers of Kashmir. Prof Punjab’s first marriage to a Kashmiri Pandit did not succeed beyond a few years and ended in divorce.

Some family sources suggest that he was operated upon early this year.

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