As we approach the end of the Holy month of Ramadan and as Eid al Fitr- the auspicious day to commemorate the Holy month- is about to descend upon us, it might be time to stock take and review ourselves. The leitmotif that defines and runs through Ramadan is self denial, selflessness and devotion to earn the blessings of God Almighty and thereby cleanse ourselves spiritually. While most of us have fasted throughout the month with due diligence, determination and enthusiasm, only God knows whether our fasting has been accepted or not. We must, however, rest the case on hope and God’s infinite Mercy. This is, insofar, as the spiritual and more or less esoteric dimensions of Ramadan are concerned. The question, that must exercise us, toward the end of Ramadan is: has the spiritual upliftment on account of the Holy month, been transformational or is it merely ephemeral?
What does this question mean?
In essence, it means and refers to the essential humanity that the spiritual discipline(s) of Ramadan entail? During this Holy month, the default reflex ( in most cases) is that of kindness , humility, charity and doing good deeds. It also means empathy for the poorer, vulnerable and not so fortunate sections of society. It is this theme or idea that I will dwell upon. The fortunate sections of society in Kashmir (or even elsewhere) do not have to worry about bread and butter issues; these are resolved for them. But the structure of our society is in the shape of a pyramid: the wealthy occupy the top portion of the pyramid; indeed it is a tiny portion and by relative standards , this tiny elite is not scandalously wealthy. In. the middle portion of the pyramid sits what might be called the “middle class”- the section of society that could be said to be enjoying a relatively decent life- especially economically. The rest of the pyramid is “occupied” by the poorer, or the unfortunate classes who have to struggle to make ends meet. These classes are deprived of the many things that most of us take for granted. From both an Islamic perspective and morality, the tiny elite and the middle classes owe the deprived classes a dignified life.
Usually, in advanced societies( except for the rabidly capitalist and market fundamentalist ones), it is the state which takes responsibility for the welfare of the deprived classes. But, in Kashmir, for obvious reasons, it cannot happen. Welfare of and for the deprived classes is not a state responsibility; instead, it is a societal responsibility. The poorer classes are not poor because of intrinsic or inherent reasons-that is, reasons peculiar to them, as market fundamentalism would like us to believe. They are poor because of structural reasons- poor economic growth, lack of opportunity, intergenerational poverty traps , lack of economic and social mobility and other assorted reasons. It , then is incumbent upon the well off to help the deprived, poorer and deprived sections of society- especially in contexts like Kashmir. This assumes salience given the generally bad economic conditions in Kashmir post the cataclysmic 2014 floods.
The question is how?
One is the obligatory charity that is incumbent on all Muslims who are able to make it. In the absence of philanthropy or philanthropic initiatives in Kashmir, this can be complemented by a structure and process wherein the well off classes pool a certain( even small sums can make a difference) amount of money into a corpus. If small payments by a significantly large number of individuals can be pooled together, this structure can be supplemented by a process whereby the economically vulnerable are identified and then financial help be rendered to them on a regular basis. All this can be overlaif by another concept: from this potential pool of capital, a “ a venture capital fund of sorts” can be developed and crystallized and potential entrepreneurs identified who can be given a certain amount of capital to start small businesses. The disbursal of this money can be no profit/ no loss basis and of course, and naturally, no interest.
All these are doable endeavors and initiatives. What is needed is will and determination. Our society is at a critical phase in every sense and respect. But, the deprivation suffered by the vulnerable classes can lead to perilous and parlous lives. Every human being, to live to the fullest must be able to live a life of dignity and self respect. But, poor economic conditions and the vulnerabilities thereof can be debilitating in physical, spiritual and material terms. Given the absence of formal structures in Kashmir that can alleviate peoples’ miseries and vulnerabilities, it is incumbent upon the well off to , in the least, help the vulnerable live honorable and dignified lives. If and when we are able to do this, it is then we can say that we are a compassionate society. Attempts and endeavors to morph into a compassionate society should be our key take away and pledge this Ramadan.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]