Kolkata: At a time when mosques across India are being targeted, a mosque in Central Kolkata has chosen to open its door to the hungry, irrespective of one’s faith. Like the langars of Gurudwaras, Kobi Bagan Masjid, Park Circus not has been providing free dinner to the poor but also ration kits for the last seven years.
What began as an experimental Roti Bank way back in 2016 went on to become a centre, which helps the poor and destitute in several ways. It also provided meals and rations during the pandemic and Amphan cyclone in West Bengal.
The initiative is the collaboration between Kobi Bagan Masjid and Living Humanity, a non-government organization (NGO). The mosque located near Aliah University, Beniapukur has offered Living Humanity its premise to provide dinner for the destitute. They now have more than fifty people including non-Muslims among regular beneficiaries.
The idea, a brain-child of Faiz Anwar, a Chartered Accountant and Rashid Jameel, a Software Engineer began running a roti bank, in the hope of ensuring that none in the area go to sleep with an empty stomach.
“Inspired by someone in Aurangabad running a roti bank, I along with a few like-minded friends thought of starting it in Kolkata, So, we began it outside my residence, after taking permission from the police,” Faiz Anwar of Living Humanity told eNewsroom,
However, this was just the beginning of something big. “As numbers grow, we need a bigger space. So we talked to the masjid management, who happily agreed. And, when we interacted with the beneficiaries, it made us realise that providing roti won’t solve the problem. So, we thought of providing free meals and then even went on to provide free rations. Just like, during Ramazan we provide ration kits. We also give monthly ration kits to those who have a family,” recounts Anwar, a chartered accountant by profession and a philanthropist by passion.
On being asked about the poster put up on the walls of Kobi Bagan Mosque that talks about free meals being provided from the premises of the mosque and how they got into a working collaboration with the mosque, he elaborated, “I believe that places like mosques need to be more socially active. It has a role to play in society. We, with this belief, approached the working committee of the mosque with a proposal of using a portion of the mosque premise to distribute meals and ration to those in need.”
Confirming the same was Shakir Ali, a member of the working committee of the mosque, “Yes, we are in an association with Living Humanity, provide the meal and ration which get distributed from our premises.”
However, during the pandemic, when we were confined to our homes, mosques were shut, and then Living Humanity reached out to the areas outside Kolkata that needed help during the lockdown. “Working in close association with Helping Hand we reached out to the pandemic as well as Amphan cyclone-affected people. We worked in Nandigram, Canning Ghutari and Mazdurpara during the pandemic, reaching out to around 5000 families during this time.”
Living Humanity and Helping Hand, founded by Miran Ahmed have done several projects jointly.
“A major work that we did during the pandemic was distribution of free oxygen cylinders. It still runs today from the premises of another mosque Tanti Bagh Ahle-Hadith masjid. There were at least 1000 patients who benefited from the cylinders we had distributed,” said the CA.
After the restrictions were over, they began functioning like earlier, from the Kobi Bagan Mosque.
To avail the free meal or ration, one need not be a Muslim by faith, the food or items are distributed to those in need irrespective of their religious beliefs.
“Some of our beneficiaries are non-Muslims. The idea is to help those in need,” said Anwar.
So, how does it work?
Can anyone take the benefit or do they have a roster?
“Initially, it was a first-come, first-serve policy that we followed. However, we began to notice that we were having follow-up visits by many. So, we began interacting with them and now we have a roster. We hand out coupons to regular visitors. The ration is provided to those, who have more than two family members queuing up for meals. Dinner is available for any single person coming to the mosque in search of food around 9 pm,” said Jameel, the co-founder of Living Humanity.
Talking about the future plans, Anwar added, “We plan to do a lot more social upliftment work through Kolkata Masajid Association. We will try to reach out to a larger section of the society, who are sleeping empty stomach.”