Eid, deaths of poor zakat collectors in stampede and democracy
Three poor women were killed and 35 injured in a stampede when several hundred people were trying to attend an iftar party followed by a zakat distribution programme in the capital Dhaka on Thursday. We hear local news of such tragic incidents, almost every year, particularly before Eid-ul-Fitr, the biggest festival of the Muslims. Islam introduced the zakat system from an egalitarian point of view, under which the rich Muslims are to distribute a part of their wealth to the poor and thus minimise the gap between the poor and the rich in society. Islam, after all, preaches that all human beings are created by single God, which, by implication, stands for a pervasive equality among the children of God irrespective of their faiths. Islam, however, never suggested that zakat has to be distributed through a pompous ceremony. But there are instances where a section of rich Bangladeshis love to draw the attention of neighbours, at times even the media, to the display of their efforts for charity, which is not only inconsistent with the spirit of Islam but also devoid of civility. The tragic incident is primarily a result of such un-Islamic and uncivil show of wealth, which needs to be censured.
However, the tragic incident raises a serious question about the frequent claims of the political incumbents that they have significantly removed poverty over past three years and a half. The organisers of the zakat programme in question said, as reported in New Age on Friday, that they have been hosting such iftar and zakat distribution programme, meant only for the local poor, for some 20 years now. But ‘this year,’ they said, ‘hundreds of floating people and beggars had stormed the place which caused the deaths.’ Has the number of poor, then, increased this year? Contrary to government claims, even official statistics, anyone having a pair of investigative eyes would not fail to see that the number of floating people in the Dhaka city has increased over the past few months. The open parks and cities turn into makeshift sleeping places of the homeless poor at night. This is a clear symptom of the rush of the jobless rural poor to the capital city in search of work. It does not reflect, what governing quarters claim, any sign of poverty alleviation.
In this regard, we must say that the government needs to keep aside its rhetorical claims about poverty alleviation and stress on a core principle of democracy, which is the equality of citizens — social, political and economic equality. To ensure such a democratic equality, the government has to ensure equal rights and opportunities for every citizen, particularly the downtrodden, so that they can effectively fight against poverty and do not need to storm the zakat programmes of the gaudy rich. Clearly, a genuine democratic transformation of society and the state, its politics and economy, nothing else, can prevent the recurrence of such tragic deaths of the poor in the stampede, and materialie Islam’s spirit in question.
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