Salimullah Muslim Orphanage
From 1909 to the Present

In 1909, the Sardars, eminent citizens who were appointed by Nawab Sir Salimullah to maintain law and order in different parts of Dhaka city brought to him the sad plight of orphans in the city to which he responded immediately by establishing an orphanage next to his own residence.

The orphanage would provide protection and education to orphans till they reached adulthood. The entire expenditure was borne by the Nawab from his zakat(alms) fund. Later the orphanage moved from its first establishment near the Nawab’s residence to a rented house in Lalbagh, an old residential area established during the Mughal period. The pioneering work by the Nawab encouraged the Muslim elite than to donate landed property as well as a residential dwelling in Dhaka city for the orphanage, in addition to the zakat, fitra and sadquah(different types of alms) for the maintenance of the orphanage.

In 1914, the Nawab prevailed upon the government to lease a little over an acre of land at the present site. In 1918, the orphanage moved to this site and Nawab Salimullah built the first building. The site was originally barren land next to a graveyard, an abode of a Muslim Pir and a temple of the Hindu community. A society was formed for the development of the orphanage and a committee appointed in 1923. The Nawab Habibullah, successor to the Nawab Salimullah, became its chairperson, and Fariduddin Siddique, a landlord of Tangail, was appointed its secretary so that the orphanage could overcome management and financial difficulties. The orphanage was named the Salimullah Muslim Orphanage.

The committee proceeded to acquire more land in 1927 and 1937, until the orphanage accumulated a little more than five acres. An appeal to the Nawab family and to the Muslim gentry of Dhaka city generated funds to build a permanent home for the orphanage, including one hostel each for boys and girls, a mosque, a school, workshops and administrative offices. Fariduddin Siddique himself covered the cost of the hostel for girls. The orphanage used the receipts from the zakat, fitra and sadquah as well as from the monthly subscriptions of the members of the general body to cover operating expenses.

The Organization
The ordinary membership fee was 25 takas a month. A person who paid 3,000 takas at one time became a life member. The general body consisted of both ordinary and life members. The general body elected an executive committee of 15 members for two years. The committee consisted of one president, three vice presidents, one secretary general, one joint secretary, one treasurer and seven members. The superintendent was an ex-officio member. The president in 2000 was Begum Shamsunnahar Ahsanullah, a former Member of Parliament who succeeded her husband Nawabzada Khawaja Ahsanullah. Traditionally, members of the Nawab family were elected president. The predecessors included Nawab Habibullah who succeeded Nawab Salimullah, followed by Nawab Hasan Askari, who was succeeded by Nawabzada Khawaja Ahsanullah. The first secretary of the orphanage was Khan Bahadur Chowdrury Fariduddiin Siddique, a Zamindar(landlord) of Tangail, followed by B. A. Siddique, who became Chief Justice of the East Pakistan High Court. In 1983, G. A. Khan became the secretary and also the chief executive officer of the orphanage. By 2000, Khan was in his sixties, but very particular about routine functions and observation of rules and appointed a class II retired official as superintendent.

The Salimullah Orphanage provides education to orphans between the ages of six and 18. They receive board and lodging, education and health care, as well as vocational education for those who are interested. The orphanage provides general education from primary to higher secondary, as well as religious, moral and civic education. After the age of 18, the orphan must leave the institution but will be assisted in his/her further study, or to seek employment, and rehabilitation.

Its primary source of income comes from religious giving—zakat, fitra, sadquah, and the proceeds from the sale of sacrificial animals. It used to receive grants from the government. In recent years, it has built shops and go-downs for renting out. According to G.A. Khan, at the behest of a local Member of Parliament, the government grant was recently stopped. The Prime Minister was approached and she promised her support but as of 2000 nothing materialized.

The old generation in Dhaka still remembers the good work that the orphanage has done for decades. According to Khan. the donations and religious offerings have been in decline every year, even though 1,815 persons sent donations to the organization in 1999. The old generation consists of families with roots in the city, have businesses or jobs in the city for at least half a century. So there was no cultural or vocational divide. The succeeding generations are newcomers with jobs or in search of jobs or business opportunities in the expanding city but live in the newly developed areas of the Dhaka metropolis. G. A. Khan admitted that besides publishing appeals in newspapers during the month of Ramadan and Hajj, little has been done to approach the new inhabitants in the city.

The latest income source comes from the rental of its property in the old towns and from the shops built on the outer walls of the orphanage. Both the increases in rents and the payments are irregular. In some cases, the heirs of the property donors have tried to get back donated assets by going to court, but the lower court has upheld the ownership of the orphanage. Some cases have been pending in the higher court for a long time. Khan at an interview said: “We are trying to sell the disputed land at a compromise price.” The legal costs increase every year, and the courts themselves have a backlog of cases numbering a few thousands. Khan thought that the judiciary was fair but it took a long time to get an effective and enforceable decision. The shops and the go-downs on its premises do not bring in rental income equivalent to market rates. Khan added:”We are afraid to change the lease as a new one may belong to the ‘muscle power’ of the locality.” Khan ruled out moving to the other side of the river Buriganga where land is cheaper and the proceeds from the sale of this prime land could bring adequate funds to build a modern complex for the orphans. He said: “The Christian missions did not move out of Tejgaon, Mohammadpur, Motijheel or Laxmi Bazar nor did the Hindu missions move out of the Dhakeshwari or Patuatuli area of the city despite many problems. The advantage of moving out is temporary and fiduciary in nature. The disadvantage is the marginalization of the orphans, psychologically and otherwise. The challenge is to mobilize the support of the community at large as well as the rehabilitated alumnus.” The result is an increasing deficit in the budget, currently met from the sales of fixed assets, or by depleting the fixed deposits. Khan tried hard to conceal his disappointment.

A Frustrated Initiative
The orphanage is located on prime real estate and the old building needs rehabilitation. Khan has received offers from developers to build a commercial complex on the property that would generate sufficient income to meet the expenses of the orphanage and provide for the upgraded education of the orphans. Salimullah has received two bids but the negotiations could not proceed because, in the words of Khan, “commercialism without benevolence and social responsibility fail to uphold the humanitarian cause.”

Future Scenario
Khan admitted that no one in the committee has entrepreneurial ability. He and the committee are thinking of taking out loans from banks where they had accounts in order to build the shopping complex themselves. He hoped that this approach would bring enough money from deposits and rentals to renovate the orphanage. The committee was also planning to offer commissions to collect donations and religious offerings, but they have not tried it yet because they were uncertain how acceptable the idea was. Khan tried to reduce the number of employees and to cap the salaries and allowances of the present staff. This created disaffection. Another plan was to increase general membership and raise membership fees. That needed a campaign, but Khan did not know how to go about it. He felt that if the nouveau riche saw the orphanage’s glorious past and its commitment they might commit themselves to become members and make donations. For instance, when approached, Mustafizur Rahman Khan of Bengal Insurance donated one lakh taka and also built a hostel for the girls.

Source: Investing In Ourselves - Giving and Fund Raising in Bangladesh by Dr. Muzaffer Ahmad and Ms. Roushan Jahan. []