An increasing number of affluent in Kashmir have started to support thousands of children orphaned due to militancy-related violence in the past two decades.
This, many see as a new phenomenon in quite contrast to the past when well-to-do often shied away from dispensing a mandatory share of their wealth (Zakat) for destitute and needy.
In the month of Ramadhan, orphanages have resorted to an awareness campaign in media informing about their achievements besides calling for more help from the wealthy families of Kashmir. And people are responding generously.
“There is a good number of people who have come forward to take care of the children in the orphanages. And from past few years there is an annual increase of 20% in the amount of Zakat paid by people,” said Zahoor Ahmad Tak, Patron J&K Yateem Trust running nine orphanages across the valley.
According to the figures available with the government, over 47,000 people lost their life during militancy leaving 22,000 children orphaned and 27,000 women as widows.
However, a recent survey by UK based non government organisation, Save the Children, puts the total number of orphans at 214,000 with 37% (79,000) of them losing their one or both parents during the armed conflict.
With government unable to frame a proper policy for the orphans, increase in number of orphanages (though some of them are fake) has institutionalized the upbringing and education of these children, making it easy for people to be part of the change.
“Of late there is a realisation among people about the collective loss of life and property in the past two decades of conflict. People with conscience want to contribute to build the lives of the widows and orphans in the valley,” Tak said.
Tak, however, revealed that not every-one was coming forward to help. “If everyone eligible to pay Zakat as per Islamic principles fulfills his responsibility, we would be able to bring up all the orphans in their homes without any need to bring them into orphanages. But currently only a minority is supporting us,” he said.
Professor of Islamic studies at Kashmir University, Hamid Nasim Rafiabadi believed that there was no need to build orphanages if Muslims in Kashmir paid their Zakat as per Islamic principles. “Muslims here don’t consider paying Zakat as mandatory,” said Rafiabad. “They would give occasional Dhaan (voluntary charity or donation) but won’t pay Zakat (obligatory alms upon wealth),” he said.
He said, of late, owing to the intervention of Muslim scholars and an increasing awareness among people about Islam, there was some improvement. “But that can’t be termed satisfactory. We need a revolution on this front,” he added.
Zakat or ‘alms upon wealth’ is the third Pillar of Islam, making it mandatory for every Muslim possessing the designated minimal amount of wealth for a full cycle of a lunar year to give its 2.5% to the needy.