A helping hand

Published June 14, 2024
Zubeida Mustafa
Zubeida Mustafa

IN a country without institutionalised social security, how do people of limited means survive in an emergency? A wage earner might lose his job unexpectedly, a young woman with small children may be widowed, or a serious illness might strike. The well-to-do have their savings and insurance to help them tide over the emergency. But for the indigent, the options are limited. At best, they can beg, borrow or steal.

It is in this context that the social network system has assumed great significance. Many large communities existed even before Pakistan, such as the Ismailis, Memons, etc. Several biradaris are relatively new, having been formalised after 1947 when populations were uprooted and needed support. The fact is that communities have stepped in to fill the vacuum created by the failure of the state to provide economic and social security to its citizens. A well-known community is the Saudagran-i-Delhi.

These communities are structured div­e­rsely and perform complex functions. I lea­rnt more about them from Seema Liaquat of the Anjuman-i-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Partabgarh [Awadh]. Seema’s father died in 1974. She is grateful to the AIMPG as it came to her mother’s rescue when she was left with four young children. The community assigned her a stipend, which arrived, without fail, every month at her doorstep until her eldest son began to work and support the family. “When my mother requested for the stipend to be discontinued, a committee member was dispatched to check if all was well,” Seema recalls.

The AIMPG is an urban community though its founding members traced their origins to various villages of Partabgarh, a district of Awadh. It was not based exclusively on common paternal descent but included the fraternity of households of the area.

Communities have stepped in where the state has failed.

Following partition, 100-odd Part­ab­gar­hians migrated to Karachi to test the greener pastures promised by the Muslim League. Then followed the migration of families. Meanwhile, the sight of a woman from Partabgarh begging on a Karachi street upset the pioneers so much that they decided to set up a welfare society in 1955 so that no one would have to beg. The idea was also to connect members with relatives with whom they had lost touch. There was no looking back after that.

The community’s membership has risen to 6,000, comprising a number of highly educated and socially and economically well-placed individuals. It had started as a group of illiterate men, mostly unskilled workers such as gardeners, peons, drivers and chowkidars. The Anjuman now boasts a 99 per cent literacy rate and has PhD doctors, a veterinarian, an MPhil (to be), an MNA, two MPAs and lawyers in its ranks. For many, it has been a story of from rags to riches.

I was impressed by the AIMPG’s self-help spirit. Its focus has been on humanitarian service, the Shoba-i-Khidmat-i-Kha­­lq being its most important department. When I asked the organisation’s president Khalil Qureshi what he took most pride in, he replied: “We have delivered stipends or assistance to those on our list on the first of the month for the last 69 years without fail. Today, 82 families between them receive Rs1,000,000 every month.”

Mr Qureshi, who is commercial manager at Port Qasim, also speaks proudly of the 60-bedded Awadh General Hospital, a healthcare centre and the Awadh Public School that provides education to 400 children — 100 of them receiving fee subsidy.

The Anjuman raises its own funds. The membership fee is a token one rupee, which was fixed in 1955. But members and non-member beneficiaries are generous with their zakat, fitra and other donations.

The administ­r­ation is structu­r­­ed democratical­­ly. It is divided into 19 wards in the city (Karachi) with a representative to monitor the well-being of the members under his jurisdiction. Above the wardens is a three-member council consisting of a president, general secretary and finance secretary assisted by an auditor. Elections are held every two years.

Events held periodically are well-attended and help the members bond. Membership is entirely voluntary and those who choose to join demonstrate a strong sense of brotherhood, which means a lot in a country that has failed to give its people a sense of ownership. The AIMPG has been progressive in its outlook and had managed generational change effectively. No wonder all children are attending schools, and the emancipation and empowerment of women in an extremely patriarchal community has proceeded smoothly.

How does the government feel about such communities? Obviously, it welcomes them because they are apolitical and do not challenge the state’s power. The wealthier communities contribute a lot to the national economy. But with membership hardly amounting to anything in a country of 241 million, the communities make no impact on the social security situation in the country.

www.zubeida-mustafa.com

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2024

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