Charity Goes Fashionable

Celebrities shook legs as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s wife Payal organised a high society fundraising event in New Delhi for her charity, Rahat, that she says was set up in 2005 to help the  underprivileged. Kashmir Life takes a look.
For all these years, Payal Abdullah, the wife of chief minister Omar Abdullah was positioned as a business woman. Apart from having an industrial unit in Himachal Pradesh, she would remote control some of Abdullah family’s businesses in J&K. It was only last week, almost 15 months after Omar took over as chief minister, that Delhi media informed J&K about Payal’s Rahat, a non-profit organisation that works for the marginalised and underprivileged.
“It was soon after the earthquake that we got a call (from the top brass of the party) that they are sending some material and after getting it, sent it to Poonch,” a party activist who wishes to remain anonymous said. Nobody across the state is in a position to offer any other detail and finally it came from the group’s recently launched website that it is providing monthly allowances to support the education of the children (no number available) besides “financial and material support to hundreds of marginalised people across the country”. It is also giving financial assistance to Ved Mandir Charitable Trust, which runs two schools – Bal Niketan and Balika Nekaten.
The website makes a special mention of ‘Mohd Owais’, a second grader in the IAF school Jammu who lost his father in 2006 and was provided help by Rahat and prevented from becoming “another one of our lost youth”. It also talks about adopting widows and orphans, running vocational centres and planning to work for wildlife preservation. There are no details available but if the photographs posted are an indication then it might have some outreach programme in Ladakh.
But what is known is that Rahat has done a big exercise to make its presence felt. The pictures on its website are clicked by fashion photographer Amit Mehra. Its major event, following wide publicity by Delhi media, was a weekend charity ball in the Shah Jehan Hall of Delhi’s Taj Palace, a luxury chain where Omar and Payal served before their marriage. The guest list was around 450 and each plate cost Rs 15000. The guests included Robert Vadra, Sunjay Dutt, Sheila Diksit, Montek Ahluwali, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Bunty Walia, Abhinav Bhindra, Rahul Bose, Pooja Bedi, Ritu Beri, and Anjali Taneja besides very few invitees from J&K.
After guests were briefed about Rahat Foundation, the pre-dinner cocktails started and the dinner followed. Then the dancing took over with Omar’s father Dr Farooq Abdullah becoming a star attraction. Even Payal shook a leg as Omar and Mollie watched from a distance. As a high-society fundraising event, it was a success as it is estimated to have fetched Rahat around Rs 75 lakh.
In over 20 years of turmoil, destitution of Kashmir has created its own records. The response from the civil society might be dis-organised but it has also created its own benchmarks. There must be not less than 100 thousand individuals whose survival is dependent directly on charity. Kashmir has, in fact, created some of the model charity groups that have impeccable reach and now resources too. People can be seen in queue to deposit their contributions at certain charities and orphanages. The donations peaked during the earthquake when the Rahat itself was born.
But managing such a massive load of the “collateral damage” will still need doubling of the efforts already underway. It is this magnitude that is still drawing well-meaning groups from the mainland and abroad to work in Kashmir. The priorities may not change for the next 20 years till the babies getting orphaned these days grow up to survive at their own. That is possible only when the guns are presumed to fall silent right now.
Socialites, celebrities and influential people have historically remained agents of change on philanthropy front. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah personally went from door to door during his ‘powerless’ days and started building the SKIMS, now Kashmir’s only address of a tertiary care hospital. Begum Akber Jehan, later founded Miskeen Bagh for the destitute women and it was finally taken over by the state’s social welfare department. Even setting up of Muslim Auqaf Trust was the outcome of the efforts that Sheikh made regardless of the controversial vortex in which the institution later landed. Payal Abdullah’s Rahat can also be taken as part of the same efforts.
But in this case there are certain striking differences. Dynasty’s all earlier efforts were endemic to Kashmir, the source of its power and influence. Unveiling of the initiative in Delhi was felt as a shocker by many, even in the party. Stories were done from Delhi and not from Jammu or Srinagar!! The organization’s avowed objective of working across the country including J&K is all right but it clashes with the ground realities in the state which has surging grey areas as far as social work is concerned.
Omar Abdullah who is backing and encouraging Rahat has already announced that the charity ball will remain a perennial exercise. But the group’s vision for Kashmir continues to be blurred. There are hints about a pediatric facility and an old age home. But well before the organisation decides about its future course, it needs to showcase its actions on ground. For half of the decade it existed, there are no details available about its functioning. Annual balance sheets of charity groups are usually on their websites because it is not only a taxman’s requirement who exempts contributions from his cut but also for the donors as well.

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