The Charity Debate

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by Riyaz Wani

The past four months have witnessed Kashmiris donating generously to poor people asking for alms online, in many cases the amount in lakhs being deposited in their bank accounts.

Muslims are supposed to pay 2.5 per cent of their savings as Zakat every year

One latest case was that of Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, 50, a cab driver who last month sat outside Eidgah grounds with semi-conscious son in his lap to narrate his difficulty to make ends meet.  He said he hadn’t earned a penny over the past four months and his wife who was working as a domestic help too had lost her job as her employers wanted to maintain social distance so as to not contract Covid.

Sheikh was forced to beg because of his 15-year-old ailing son lying in his lap, whom, according to him, he hadn’t been able to give even the food for some time. “That is why I came here,” Sheikh told people in a choked voice about his decision to make his plight public.

The video of his appeal carrying his bank account number went viral. In a matter of a few days, he received around Rs 4 lakh in his account. There are many more such individual cases where people have transferred lakhs of rupees to the bank accounts of the needy people whose desperate plight was highlighted on social media. In one case, a person whose case eventually turned out to be dubious got around Rs 30 lakh in his bank account following which the district administration had to intervene to freeze the account.

A Debate

This person’s case triggered a debate in Kashmir whether people should at all respond to online calls for monetary help and provide disproportionate support to the individuals to the neglect of hundreds of others. And which is true. Just because the plight of a deserving few gets highlighted on the internet, they can’t solely become entitled to the help that so many others need.

The debate has become muddled further with some students who got admission in foreign universities asking people to donate to fund their studies. Should people do it? Here, it is a different kind of neediness. And here again, the question can be asked why should one person’s studies be privileged over those of hundreds of others in a similar situation.

The issue is that while charity is a wonderful and virtuous thing to do, it can’t be allowed to be cornered by a few vocal individuals with knowledge of and access to means of mass communications. This calls for some kind of institutionalization of charity where an institution or a group of people is charged with helping needy people. This way poor can be helped proportionately and equitably. This, however, doesn’t rule out irregularities in the distribution. But with honest people at the helm, the process of distribution can be made more or less fair.

Why Charity?

We need such charity now. There are lakhs of people who have either been rendered jobless due to a year-long lockdown or have suffered a drastic reduction in their savings. All of them need our help, not individually but collectively.  At the same time, while the current situation in Kashmir is about joblessness due to lockdown, Kashmir is also about the families of the thousands who have died over the past three decades.  A large number of these families have been completely ruined, left to fend for themselves, many of them without any male family members.

So, there is a need for individual and collective reflection and remembrance. It is also about our obligation towards our society. We not only inherit the tragic fallout of the trouble over the past three decades but also continue to live this reality in the present.

Riyaz Wani

This year too many a violent incident took place leading to loss of many lives. Sadly, such incidents are never a trigger for a community-level effort to help out the people who have lost their loved ones to violence. Over the years we have become numb and forgetful about this grim reality. We go on about our lives leaving the families who have nothing on the side. As always we succumb to unbridled consumerism, even in the midst of a pandemic too.  We are generally bereft of the concern for the poor and the people who have suffered.

There is an urgent need thus to reflect on our failures as a community. It is incumbent on us that while we go about our lives we also remember thousands of the victims of ongoing turmoil and jobless people and contribute in a material way to lessen their misery. And this calls for the charity that reaches every deserving person, not just a few whose plight is highlighted in the media. There are more people suffering in silence in comparison to a few who know how to seek attention.

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