While Muslims give a small percentage of their surplus wealth (zakat) to the poor and the deprived as a part of their religious obligation, Dalits on the other side have launched Dalit zakat to help the forgotten.
A group of Dalits had set up “Ambedkar Trust” of India in 2007. President of the Trust J Ram said the political 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.
“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,” Shyamlal, General secretary of the Trust said.
“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.
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 have been done with the donations.
“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.
“All religions call for compassion. There is hardly any difference between Muslim and Dalit zakat. The objective is to assist the poor and deprived,” said a labourer whose son has been enrolled in school.