Like Tasneem, thousands of Dawoodi Bohra women are on their way to fulfilling their dreams, thanks to a unique community kitchen service initiated by this sect of Shia Muslims.
Daily tiffin boxes or ‘thali’ as they are called, reach thousands of Dawoodi Bohra homes across the globe, providing respite to women from time-consuming kitchen chores.
Under the scheme, one meal is provided daily to interested families with contributions from local volunteers. The menu for each month is pre-decided and circulated to every family. The ‘thalis’ duly reach the door step of each family as per the fixed schedule.
No less than a revolution for women in a traditional society, the community kitchen named Faiz Al Mawaid Al Burhaniyah has changed many lives. With respite from kitchen chores, talented Bohra women are using their spare time to supplement their house-hold income, besides now playing a more active role in children’s education and upbringing.
“1,00,000 thalis provide food to 75 percent Bohras residing around the world, " informs Shaikh Abdeali Bhanpurawala, public relations in-charge at Dawat-e-Hadiyah, the headquarters of Bohras in India.
Initiated in 2011, at the behest of 101 year-old Spiritual Head of the sect Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin Saheb, the service was based on a similar programme in Egypt 18 years ago. Today 874 community kitchens are operational worldwide including UK, USA, Singapore, Africa and Dubai.
"Traditionally, women have been assigned limited roles and kitchen chores didn’t allow free time. But one ready-made meal served through community kitchen has given me chance to think out of the box," says Zainab Sadikot, whose hand-embroidery talent has now bloomed into a business.
Nutritious food aside, sharing the same food for some like Zainab Bharmal, a former school teacher, is a means of bridging the gap between members of the community. She says, “Probably we are the only sect eating with a unique perspective of unifying people in diversified settings.”
There were apprehensions too, about funding and distribution, some even predicted its failure. With all kinks ironed out today, the credit goes to Syedna Saheb’s son and nominee, Shezada Mufaddal Bhai Saheb Saifuddin for his perseverance to ensure successful implementation of the unique programme across the globe for the community.
Small places like Jasdan, Morvi and cities including Chennai, Indore, Bangalore, Jamnagar have seen a tremendous response, whereas eastern India and Vidharba have achieved 100% implementation.
The sect has thrived in more ways with the programme which also provides a source of livelihood for many Bohras, in administration, distribution and food preparation. A boon for the under-privileged, the programme ensures food to those who cannot pay regularly.
Voluntary donation flows from the affluent to sustain the scheme all year around, with the sentiment that members shouldn’t feel that the ‘thali’ is a right because of the contribution they have made, but as a blessing of the contribution he has made.
Notably, this unique community initiative has influenced family celebrations as well. The 'nikah' of Rajkot resident Mustafa Lokhandwala was celebrated with a delicious menu offered to every family via the service. "We could have celebrated the nikah with pomp, but it would have been confined to only invitees. Instead, we preferred to offer one day ‘thali’ so that everyone in the community becomes a part of this celebration," says Mustafa.
The centres receive guidance from Mumbai headquarters, but there is no interaction internationally as yet. "We are now focusing our energies in optimizing and lowering costs, besides striving for healthier food with help from dieticians and feedback from households," said Bhanpurwala. “We also want to make sure that no one sleeps hungry.”
TM / YS / KP