At a time when Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati hopes to return to power on the Dalit- Muslim formula, a group of Dalits from various fields are strengthening the bond between the two communities with Dalit zakat.
For Muslims, giving a small percentage of their surplus wealth (zakat) to the poor and the deprived is a part of their religious obligation. Taking a leaf out of the Islamic tradition, these Dalit members -- some of them former bureaucrats -- have launched Dalit zakat to help the have-nots.
A group of Dalits set up the Ambedkar Trust of India in 2007. President of the Trust J Ram said the apolitical organisation was guided by the ideals of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.
“While embracing Buddhism at Nagpur on October 15, 1956, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar spoke on the uplift of the Dalit community. Ambedkar called upon his followers to donate five per cent of their earnings, as done by the Muslims, for the social, religious and economic emancipation of Dalits,” J Ram said.
“We constituted Bharatiya Dalit Zakat Foundation and decided to donate 5% of income. The membership of the foundation is 305. Along with offices in various districts of the state, it has also spread roots in Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh,” he said.
General secretary of the Trust Shyamlal said, “Zakat is associated with Islam and Muslims. Few people are aware that Gautam Buddha was the first to propagate the idea of giving alms. He called upon his followers to donate (‘dana’) a part of their earnings to the deprived”.
“Since ages Dalits have been discriminated on the ground of untouchability and ‘varna’ system. Our aim is to liberate Dalits and to bring them in the mainstream of the social system. We urge the people to donate five per cent of their earning,” he said.
The fund is utilised in the establishment of educational institutions, construction of houses for the homeless, scholarship to meritorious students coming from poor family, purchase of garment for poor children and establishment of hand pumps in Dalit-dominated areas.
“The trust has also been assisting 22 meritorious students coming from poor families in pursuing professional courses. The students will pay back to the Trust after employment and our mission will continue,” said Chandrapal, vice-president of the Trust.
“To impart basic education to poor children, the Trust has set up an educational institution Ambedkar Buddha Junior High School in Chinhat. Over 90 children of rag pickers, stonecutters, daily wage labourers, street vendors and domestic help are enrolled in the school. “e are giving scholarships to 11 meritorious students after the state government discontinued the scheme,” he said.
A daily wage labourer Mohammad Asif, whose son Abdul (10) is enrolled in the school, said: “All religions call for compassion. There is hardly any difference between Muslim and Dalit zakat. The objective is to assist the poor and deprived,” he said.