Baba Amte and Usha Tai

Some years ago, I had been to Sumanahalli, the village for leprosy patients at the outskirts of Bangalore. The city’s unwieldy sprawl has pushed it inside the municipal limits and the Government has set its sight on the 100-acre property. The fact is that no one in the bureaucracy then in 1970, was willing to take up the project for the taboo such assignments carried. A Christian organization adopted it and has been salvaging the victims from the crippling scourge. A nun, Mary Mascarenhas had escorted me there in 1996 when I wished to have a look at the institution. Upon entering a dormitory, she hugged Pyari Ma, a Muslim inmate. The gesture left me dumbfounded. More interactions revealed that several inmates were Muslims.
A couple of years ago, the Association of Physically Disabled (APD) in Bangalore invited me to speak to their inmates about the significance of Ramazan. APD has been engaged in imparting skills to the disabled people. I learnt that there were 77 Muslims among the 177 persons enrolled in the institutions. I am yet to see an institution run by Muslims for the disabled on so grandiose a scale.
Years ago someone in Delhi took me to a hostel where rape victims were being rehabilitated. They even had a nursery where infants born out of rape were brought up. Earlier this year I had a long chat with Usha Waghmare, a renowned social worker in Pune who has been running a school-cum-hostel for children of prostitutes. She told me that most children, come to know of their background by the time they stepped out of their adolescence. The grooming enables them to merge with the mainstream without a blemish. She has been instrumental in giving them a life of dignity. But for her, thousands of girls would have followed the trail of their unfortunate mothers.
Two years ago, I travelled with Mr. Abdul Ghafoor Parekh to Anandawan, near Nagpur. It is a self-sustaining sanctuary created by Baba Amte for leprosy patients—also the ones who were cured of it—to rescue them from social ostracism. Amte waged a battle against the infirmities of the mind of man and cruelties of the society.
I am yet to come across such shining monuments of creative compassion by Muslims. We do not tire of singing paeans of Islam being a religion of peace, love and mercy. But all that we come across in the Friday sermons is about retribution from God and warnings of hellfire awaiting the non-believers. Ironically, those who deliver the harangues themselves deserve to be the primary objects of compassion.
I have been ruminating over the issue and have come to the conclusion that people who do not embody love, compassion and forgiveness, can never think of institutions that give them a concrete shape. Our madrassas teach their graduates ifta (to issue rulings), but not islah (to reform). How would the Baba Amtes and Usha Tais spring from our ranks?
We are certainly not short of resources. Come Bakrid, hundreds of thousands of goats and sheep are sacrificed. Thousands stream out for Umrah during Ramazan, the latest fad among the Muslim elites. Yet the purse strings are never loosened for productive charity that could rescue and relieve people from pain and penury. But tragically, those who could have directed the charities to more purposeful ends, are themselves unaware of ways and means this could be achieved. Quo vadis!

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