Wednesday, February 8

Calcutta Muslim Orphanage gets its first woman president

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For the first time, a woman has made it to the helm of the 125-year-old Calcutta Muslim Orphanage (CMO), an institution which also runs several schools and carries out philanthropic activities. Sajda Ahmed, member of parliament from Uluberia and wife of late MP Sultan Ahmed, has become the first woman to be elected president of the prestigious institution last week.

A graduate from Calcutta University, Ahmed said her immediate priority would be education of the orphanage residents and their exposure to computers, which will give the children a head-start when they step out as adults.

“The quality of education has improved in the past few years, but I feel there is still scope for much more. We need to introduce a lot of modern disciplines including computers, to keep our students abreast of the latest developments. We also need to teach them life skills,” she said.

Her husband’s death had necessitated a by-election in Uluberia last year, which Ahmed won by a comfortable margin. Before taking the plunge into politics, she was involved in social work and looked after her husband’s businesses.

The Calcutta Muslim Orphanage has close to 1,000 residents — both boys and girls. They are supported till they attain adulthood and can take care of themselves. CMO also arranges marriages for girls in its care after they reach adulthood.

Outdoor activities also play a big role in shaping a healthy future, Ahmed felt.

“At present, we do not have adequate open space for our residents. Stepping out in the fresh air and actively participating in sports will help them focus on their education too,” Ahmed said, adding, “I also want to improve the accommoda tions of the residents and encourage them to go for higher studies.”

The CMO was established in 1892 by Abdul Hasan Khan and his associates. The institution has grown over time into one of the largest orphanages in the country. A rich history apart, the institution boasts of property worth over Rs 100 crore, including four schools, and a healthy cash cushion. Besides rent from its various properties, aids and grants, one of the major sources of the orphanage’s income is the zakaat (an Islamic levy) that Muslims give out.

In the past, there have been accusations that politics was taking over philanthropy. Former CPM MP Mohammed Salim was the president of the organisation since 2000. With the change in political guard in the state in 2011, Ahmed’s husband took control. The position fell vacant after his demise.

Membership of the orphanage is also a matter of status in the community. “Membership is much sought after as it gives one access to the ruling elite within the community. Serving the orphans and working for their welfare is viewed as a noble deed which takes one closer to the Almighty,” said a member of the CMO.

Source: Times of India

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