Edhi: The Angel of Mercy

19 Jul

By: Aasef Chauhdry
He created a charitable empire out of nothing, masterminding Pakistan’s largest welfare organisation. His name was Abdul Sattar Edhi, who is revered by billions as a national hero. Comfortable and happy with just two sets of clothes, he slept in a windowless room of white tiles adjoining the office of his charitable foundation which was sparsely equipped and just had just one bed, a sink and a hotplate. To many, Edhi was known as the “Father Teresa” of Pakistan.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in January 1928 in Bantva village of Indian Gujarat. When he was eleven, his mother became paralysed from a stroke and she died when Edhi was 19. His personal experiences and care for his mother during her illness caused him to develop a system of services for old, mentally ill and challenged people. After the partition Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 where he shifted to Karachi to work in a market at a wholesale shop. His mother would give him 1 paisa for his meals and another to give to a needy. He initially started as a peddler, and later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi. After a few years, he established a free dispensary with help from his community.
Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple had four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarters in Karachi and organizes the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies. Edhi was known for his frugal lifestyle, owning only two pairs of clothes, never taking a salary from his organisation and living in an apartment next to his organization’s office. He was a prominent Pakistani philanthropist, social activist, Spartan, and humanitarian. He was the founder and head of the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan and ran the organization for the better part of six decades. He was known as Angel of Mercy and was considered Pakistan’s “most respected” and legendary figure. In 2013, The Huffington Post once paid him tributes by saying that he might be “the world’s greatest living humanitarian.”
Edhi established his first welfare center in 1957 and then the Edhi Trust. What started as one man operating from a single room in Karachi is now the Edhi Foundation. The foundation has over 300 centers across the country, in big cities, small towns and remote rural areas, providing medical aid, family planning and emergency assistance. They own air ambulances, providing quick access to far-flung areas. In Karachi alone, the Edhi Foundation runs 8 hospitals providing free medical care, eye hospitals, diabetic centers, surgical units, a 4- bed cancer hospital and mobile dispensaries. In addition to these the Foundation also manages two blood banks in Karachi. As with other Edhi services, employed professionals and volunteers run these. The foundation has a Legal aid department, which provides free services and has secured the release of countless innocent prisoners. Commissioned doctors visit jails on a regular basis and also supply food and other essentials to the inmates. There are 15 “Apna Ghar” [“Our Home”] homes for the destitute children, runaways, and psychotics.
During his philanthropist life Edhi witnessed quite a few ups and downs in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. In the early 1980s he was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, US immigration officials interrogated Edhi at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for over eight hours, and seized his passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention Edhi said “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress.”
While in Pakistan he was continuously threatened and harassed for his noble cause. Many a times, he complained publicly that few extremist outfits and an ethnic party were creating hurdles for him and threatening him. Though he was afraid of taking the direct name but it was very clear that he was referring to MQM who would not let anyone else to collect donations, casings and extortion. He openly took the names of Hamid Gul and Imran Khan for harassing him. The cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s political rivals exploited the news while twisting it. When enquired it was found that it was General Imran Ullah Khan in fact who was appointed by Benazir as Governor Balochistan and had soft corner for the PPP.
On 25 June 2013, Edhi’s kidneys failed; it was announced that he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life unless he found a kidney donor. Edhi died on 8 July 2016 at the age of 88 due to kidney failure after having been placed on a ventilator. His last wishes included the request that his organs were to be donated but due to his ill health, only his corneas were suitable. He was laid to rest at the Edhi Village Karachi.
Reactions to his death came from several high-ranking Pakistani officials, most notably the COAS General Raheel Sharif who personally supervised the arrangements for a state funeral for a legend. Unfortunately no prominent political figure could pick the courage to attend that funeral. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tendered a health excuse while Asif Zardari preferred to stay abroad and so did Bilawal. Nevertheless, the Army ensured an unforgettable send off to the messiah. It was a state honour given to Edhi in the shape of guard of honour and 19-gun-salute. He was only the third Pakistani to receive the historical gun carriage funeral only after Quaid e Azam and Zia ul Haq. The army bashers didn’t spare even this moment to bash and once again stooped low and blamed the forces for hijacking the coffin and keeping the political elite in background, however, truth is known to all and sundries that how popular the political elite of Pakistan is. The country’s head of the army, Raheel Sharif, called him a “true humanitarian.”
Abdul Sattar Edhi didn’t forget to do the last favour before departing for his eternal abode and donated his eyes to the blind people before his death. The only regret is that alas! He should have donated those to the blind and heartless leaders of Pakistan.

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