A countrywide ‘upliftment drive’ within the Bohra community is getting wealthy members
to sponsor renovation of homes, education and healthcare for less-affluent members
Mumbai: Tasneem Rampurawala’s heart sank every time she had to attend nature’s call. For the 40-year-old Jogeshwari resident, it meant a walk to a common toilet at the local Bohra community centre. A tailor who does ridah paneling work at a garment factory nearby, Ms. Rampurwala earns only 5,000 a month. This meant she could either spend on constructing a toilet in her 100-sq. ft. home, or focus on the education of her 20-year-old son Burhanuddin. She chose the latter.
Sometime last year, the amil, who heads the local jamaat, made a list of homes in critical condition, including that of Ms. Rampurawala. For five days, her house in Prem Nagar was surveyed by a team of 15 Bohra community members, who photographed every corner of the room, interviewed mother and son and jotted down minute details like their earnings, education and work schedule. The survey made it clear that two things were needed to uplift this two-member family: a toilet inside the house and support for the son’s education.
“Twice, I had asked for quotations for constructing the toilet, but each time, it was 40,000 or more, which I could not afford,” says Ms Rampurawala, who finally has a toilet inside her tiny house, where she has lived for 20 years. “It is something we wanted for so many years.”
A few days after the Indian-style commode and a 500-litre water tank were fitted in the house, Burhanuddin received an interview call from a Houston-based businessman, Aliasgar Dhoon, who owns a firm in Fort. Mr. Dhoon wanted to evaluate him before sponsor his education. “After the interview, I was assured that my education will be sponsored,” says Burhanuddin, who is preparing for a Masters in Computer Application (MCA) and needs 3 lakh for the three-year course. The dire state of finances at home had led to a year’s break in education after his bachelor’s degree.“With that degree, I was getting jobs offering only 10,000 a month or less. I want to work with a good website developer.”
The Rampurawalas are among the 10,000-odd families identified for the upliftment and fostership drive being conducted within the Bohra community across India for the last two years. The programme, initiated by their religious head, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, works on a simple theory: connecting the needy to the wealthy. Affluent members contribute to the jamaat, which pays for the renovation including painting, fixing leaks and constructing toilets. Individual benefactors are identified for education, healthcare and similar needs.
An extra floor for the Ali family in their 120 sqft home in Malad
Mr. Dhoon says sometimes, families need a slight push. “The people I am helping are bright, intelligent and sharp. They simply need opportunities, which I am creating for them,” he says. He is also grooming two Bohra brothers from Surat at the Mumbai branch of his firm, Core Technology Services.
Mustafa Shaikh Yusuf Ali, 46, a resident of Malwani, Malad, recently had an additional floor constructed in his 120-sq.ft. house as part of the upliftment drive. The Alis, including Mustafa’s wife Farida and daughter Maria, 16, have lived in the congested space for the past 25 years. “The plaster had peeled off, and during monsoon, the walls would leak. But we continued to live like that,” says Mr. Ali, who works as a security guard in Goregaon and earns 8,000 a month.
Like Ms. Rampurawala, Mr. Ali too chose to spend on Maria’s education instead of repairs. A student of Mithibai College, she aspires to be a cardiologist. “Last year, I had a toilet constructed inside my house as I did not want my wife and daughter to go out to use the common toilet, but it exhausted my savings. The small single-room tenement was also hindering Maria’s studies. “After the toilet was built, the room became even smaller,” says Maria. “Now, I can go upstairs and study in peace.”
Malwani has over 30 Bohra families, of which seven residences were identified as critical by the local amil. The survey team that visited them to plan construction is part of a 4,000-strong countrywide network of architects, doctors, educationists, engineers and other professionals. This team plans measures for a family to achieve a minimum standard of living, with focus on renovation, reconstruction, home furnishing, cleanliness and hygiene and clean drinking water.
Aliasgar Dadi, 37, a Manchester-based businessman who contributed to the jamaat in Malwani, said he was moved when he saw the poor living conditions. “I never imagined that people in an urban city like Mumbai live like this. When we surveyed the houses, it disturbed me to the core,” Mr. Dadi says from the U.K. He is also fostering two families in Rajasthan and has purchased a high-end toolbox for an electrician in Mumbai.
He adds, “I happened to visit this electrician’s home during the survey, where I asked to see his tool kit. I was surprised when he took out a polythene bag containing a screwdriver and a tester. With that kind of equipment, he would always do small jobs and never move a step higher.” Mr. Dadi returned home and purchased a sophisticated toolbox. “I will be sending it to Mumbai through a relative. I believe even this small gesture can help the electrician uplift his life and family.”