KARACHI, Jan 14: The onset of the holy month of Ramazan has become a test of popularity for veteran social worker Abdus Sattar Edhi whose Edhi Trust suffered a decline of 40 percent in donations last Ramazan and whose daily receipts have fallen in the same proportion over the last couple of years.
Mr Edhi told Dawn that although cheques for Zakat, clothes and rations had begun to arrive at his head office in Mithadar since Ramazan began on Jan 11, by the 20th of Ramazan he would have a better idea whether donations fetched during the holy month would match up to the funds normally brought in each Ramazan.
Interviewed at his humble Mithadar office, Mr Edhi related that last Ramazan the contributions to the Edhi Trust fell from Rs 40 million to 25 million – with his charitable organisation still not recovered from the set-back. This year, he assessed the situation to have become bad enough to defer the payment of staff salaries till after Ramazan. However, apart from Ramazan, Mr Edhi has suffered loss of ‘khairat’ (charity) normally given by the middle class and business class, with donations falling from an average daily of Rs 700,000 to Rs 400,000. The sharp decline in donations coupled with the severe fall in the value of the rupee has, according to him, forced him to cut down his network of social services across the country.
The experienced social worker said there was a “very small class” that donates to the Edhi Trust. With everything so expensive, they too had been holding back on donations.
Mr Edhi traced the downslide for his Trust as beginning in January 1995 when he returned from a month-long exile in London, undertaken to escape the pressure groups who had been bent on overthrowing the government. He had secretly left on Dec. 8, 1994 to escape the groups (amongst whose leaders he had named Imran Khan and Maulana Israr Ahmed), to prevent them from using him to topple the government.
The veteran social worker said that since the PPP government had been in power at that stage, his departure had created the wrong impression that he was a supporter of the PPP. This was despite his categorical assertion that “I am not a politician”. Mr Edhi declared that he had temporarily fled because he could never collaborate with the vested interests who were dividing people on the basis of being Sindhi, Baloch, Mohajir and Pakhtun. During the ethnic riots, he stressed, his ambulances had been picking up bodies regardless of ethnicity. Despite this, he alleged that “narrow-minded people had been spreading the poison of ethnic differences”.
He was also critical of the Jamaat-i-Islami, claiming that the latter was intent on “bringing the nation to the brink of disaster”. For him, “The only religion I know is that of serving humanity”.
Two years from Edhi’s self-exile, the Edhi Trust is in the throes of a financial set-back, Edhi claiming he is being “punished for speaking out”. He regretted that on its 50th anniversary this year, Pakistan was still far from its goal of achieving unity and the mission elaborated by the Quaid-i-Azam for a comprehensive social welfare system.