M A Siraj
Bengaluru City Railway Station has witnessed departure of 231 Shramik Expresses between May 3 and July 3 carrying nearly 350,000 migrant labourers to their hometowns. These labourers have been seen off at the platform by a group of volunteers donning kurta-pyjama and a cap, an attire typically associated with ulema. These volunteers have been a constant sight since these express trains began to roll out from KSR Bengaluru Station which is named after Krantiveera Sangoli Rayanna (KSR for the last few years). These volunteers sporting the Islamic identity are affiliated to Rahmath Group. They have been delivering food packets to the departing labourers together with activists from Mercy Mission and International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
The Rahmath Group has rendered yeoman service during the Covid-induced lockdown since March 25. The Group consists of followers of Maulana Sayed Talha Naqshbandi who has his seat (Astana) at Bhiwandi. Disciplined and dedicated, the volunteers bring cartloads of bananas, sweet lime (mosambi), buns, rotis studded with pickles, some curd-rice, a tiny packet carrying a towel, soap etc—all costing around Rs. 300 a few hours before the train’s departure and hand them over to each traveller and their family members (if any) to serve them on their long journey to cities in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Bengal and the North East.
Praise from the Railways
The Railway authorities who suspected their bona fides at the inception, are now all praise for them for their disciplined behavior and selfless service during the last two months. When the South Western Railway began its services on May 3, the trains would depart in early hours. Rahmath Group volunteers would arrive at 3 am, would don a green latticed waistcoat over their usual dress and pack the gift bags with fruit and other eatables. They would also hand over two 2-litre water bottles to each individual to survive till their destinations. Says a Railways official, “They demand no amenities from the Railway authorities and bring their own tiffin-boxes for themselves.” In the early days, there would be two to three hundred of them in the Station’s waiting hall. Last week when this scribe visited the Station, there were twenty of them. The Railway officials have provided them a space to offer namaz and see that sweepers and scavengers keep the area clean and sanitised for them to spread their prayer rugs.
2 lakh kits gifted
According to Maulana Suheb Qasimi, Group’s coordinator for Bengaluru, they have so far handed over nearly two lakh such kits to the departing labourers. Some of the recipients have even spoken off their service in glowing terms on videos.
Suheb says, Maulana Talha has trained a slew of volunteers for social service which he says should be rendered to all, regardless of faith, community, caste and colour. The Group follows the motto “Muhabbat ka deep jalao; Nafrat ki aag bujhao” (Kindle lamp of love; Extinguish the fire of hate).
Earlier, the Rahmath Group distributed over 15,000 ration kits among the poor households who have lost their livelihood during the lockdown. Each kit carrying nearly 20 kgs of grocery items and foodstuffs were distributed among the slum dwellers, adivasis, carpenters, potters, shelter-less people and villagers around the city. Currently, it is helping the ulema who have been rendered without job due to closure of madrassas, maktabs and mosques.
The Group recently invited groups of non-Muslims (including women) to a prominent mosque in Bengaluru to personally experience the ambience of the mosque and listen to the sonorous recitation of the Quran. They were treated for lunch, gifted a few books and perfume bottles. They were taken to upper floor during the Zohar prayer to watch the performance of namaz. The group regularly visits hospitals, jails and schools to interact with inmates and students. Suheb says the entire programme was organized to remove misgivings regarding interiors of mosques and the mode of worship which often clouds their perception about Muslims and Islam.
M.A. Siraj is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru