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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ramadan in India

Danish Aziz is Islamic Relief’s Program Manager in India. For him, Ramadan shines light upon the disparity between the rich and poor, between those who enjoy the festivities of the month and those who barely have enough food to survive.

Ramadan is of course a month of fasting, piety and religious devotion for Muslims around the world. But for me, Ramadan also invokes images of delicious food and the chance to sample tasty delicacies and mouth-watering dishes from different cultures.

I love walking around Delhi’s Old City late at night visiting the different shops and stalls, accompanied by the aroma of the special dishes that are prepared during this month. If you walk through the streets near to the Jama Masjid then you can enjoy a host of delicious foods, from vegetarian delights to amazing sweets.

I have seen how people observe Ramadan across India, from rural Bihar, to Gujarat, to the mosques of Kerala. In every place, no matter how hard their circumstances the season instills people with a glow and a festive spirit.

But as an aid worker, I know that not everyone in India is able to enjoy Ramadan in this way. Many cannot afford basic food items let alone the luxury treats that are on offer. I have met people who have no food but dry hard lumps of powdered cereal, which is all they eat just to keep them going throughout the day. For many giving up a meal in the middle of the day is not just a requirement of Ramadan, but a necessity throughout the whole year.

In Bangalore, which is my second home, it is a common sight to see children in the slums running with small containers at sundown. They are collecting their ration of ganjee, a porridge made from rice, curd and mint leaves. It is usually made as part of a collective community effort, the ‘haves’ helping the ‘have nots.’ I believe that there are enough resources for all of us to survive, but that it is the blessed few who share what they have with others.

Every year, Islamic Relief distributes food parcels to those who are most in need. We start our preparations long before Ramadan begins, planning our distributions based on where people are most in need of our help. Sometimes people come up to us to ask for our help, but we also have to find those who are too ashamed to ask for assistance.

Often we distribute food parcels in areas that have been recently affected by disaster such as floods, as in Bihar. When I was there, I had to wade through deep water to reach tiny settlements and villages to give them packages of food.

India is a country of great diversity where people’s diets change every 100 kilometers or so. We respect this and over the years we have tried to ensure that the food parcels we give match the various cultural and dietary differences, and try to include local foods wherever possible so that people get the food of their choice and liking. So a villager in West Bengal will get their choice of parboiled rice, while someone in Andhra Pradesh will be able to eat the finest Sona Masuri rice.

There are times when aid work can be routine like any other job, but it is said that you are rewarded 70 times for your good deeds during Ramadan and this realization helps to light up our lives. Older women often hold my hands and thank us for delivering these packs to them. They sometimes go as far as to say that it is Allah and then people like us who help them in their times of need. But I tell that we are just the delivery people for the thousands of donors around the world who care about them and want to feed the hungry during Ramadan.

Projects like Ramadan food distributions are essential to help people in their time of need but over the last 25 years Islamic Relief has also moved towards promoting sustainable development in India. This means reducing people’s dependency on aid and focusing on education, livelihood support and micro-finance assistance.

We are now working in some of the industrial slums of Western Uttar Pradesh in northern India, providing 7,000 girls with education and vocational training. We also support more than 1,000 orphans by providing them with healthcare and education, as well as providing their families with interest-free loans and the support to make a living.

In Ramadan, perhaps more than any other time, I feel honored to be a part of this work and to see the change that it brings to people’s lives. There is a lot to do, but all in good time.

To read more about Islamic Relief's work in India, click here.

To support Islamic Relief's work in India, donate today, or e-mail this post to a friend.


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  4. Great article. Thats whats so special about India, dispite the peoples difficulties they just love their festivals. I met muslims in kerala, who were proud to fast during Ramadan.

  5. This means reducing people’s dependency on aid and focusing on education, livelihood support and micro-finance assistance.