Millions of Indian citizens live below the poverty line. Most lack the basic amenities of life and a basic education, nor do they have a proper roof over their heads.
In the city of Mumbai (as Bombay is now called), more than half its population of 12 million live on the streets or in unauthorised shanties built on pavements and any available open space, without toilets and running water, and many do not have electricity. To this, one has to add the needs of the handicapped, the old & infirm, the widows and orphans. Charitable institutions are trying their best to cope with the needs of these millions, but the needs are mammoth and resources are limited.
For many years, Scottish Freemasons under the District Grand Lodge have been contributing their mite to assist those in difficulty and distress. Until 1996, the District Grand Lodge and its Daughter Lodges restricted relief activities to giving grants to widows and destitutes, and sometimes to charitable organisations.
In 1996, both the District Grand Lodge and the Grand Chapter of United Scottish Royal Arch Freemasonry in India & Ceylon received substantial donations from the Trustees of the Estate of the late Bro. Ratan N. Contractor, who was the Right Worshipful District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge from 1985 to 1987, and the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent of the Grand Chapter from 1976 to 1984. This enabled Scottish Freemasons to undertake organised charity.
A special committee was set up in January 1996, called the 'Projects Committee', under the Chairmanship of Bro. Kersi J. Limathwalla, Past District Grand Treasurer and a Chartered Accountant by profession. With the active joint support of the Right Worshipful District Grand Master and the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent, Masons and their wives were invited to join the Committee, and they visited various charitable institutions to assess their needs. It was felt that this would also help in promoting the image of Freemasonry in the eyes of the public.
Within three months, Committee members and their wives visited various institutions associated with rehabilitation of the blind, crippled, children, the aged and the destitutes. It was decided as a matter of principle, that there would be no 'cheque-book charity' and that the Committee would contribute items required by six of these institutions. During the first year, Rupees 50,000 was spent in providing educational material, storage equipment, fans, drinking water purifier, bed-sheets, furniture and food grains.
The Trustees of the Estate of the late Bro. Ratan N. Contractor have continued to contribute further, substantial sums each year and to date, the total contributions received from them to the District Grand Lodge and the Grand Chapter amounts to Rupees Fifty Four Lakhs Seventy Five Thousand (Rupees 5.74 Million). This corpus has been invested and the interest has been utilised over the last few years for relief work. The basic principle of not giving money, but items required by the institutions, has been maintained.
This has enabled the District Grand Lodge and the Grand Chapter to earmark around Rs. 200,000 annually for disbursement by the Committee.
Daughter Lodges all over the District have been encouraged to recommend organisations and institutions in their vicinity, so that the Committee’s activities are not restricted to Mumbai City. Lodge St. Andrew’s-in-the-East No. 343 in Pune, Lodge Barton No. 475 in Lonavla, Lodge Heather No. 928 in Munnar, Lodge Universal Peace No. 1208 in Secunderabad, and Lodge Light of Iran No. 1498 in Udvada have undertaken to assist institutions with support from the Committee, while Lodge Charity No. 783 in Bandikui conducted two eye camps in 2002 on their own.
The institutions assisted are :-
|Name of Institution||Type of Aid Given|
|Bal Asha Dan||Floor Tiles|
|Sanjeevani Trust||Jute Cover Sheets|
|A. K. Munshi Yojna||Fans, Utensils, etc.|
|Central School for the Deaf||Screen Printing Machine|
|Society for the Education of the Crippled||Corrective Surgery|
|Society for Special Education for the Deaf (Helen Keller Institute)||Materials & Equipment|
|Muscular Dystrophy Society||Plastic Sheets & Knee Joints for 200 patients|
|Haemophilia Society, Mumbai||Factor Replacement in Blood|
|Polio Corrective Surgery||Corrective Surgery|
|Women's Medicare Organisation||Food items|
|Parekh Dharamshala||Water Geysers|
|Om Creation Trust||Materials for Handicraft|
|Children's Orthopaedic Hospital||Therapy & Rehabilitation|
|Bhagini Samaj||Sponsorship of 10 Children|
|Indian Council for Mental Health||Contribution for school building|
|Sant Shree Punit Trust||Medicines & Consumables|
|Society of the Home for the Aged||Refrigerator|
|Shanti Avedan Ashram||Bedsheets and Pillow covers|
|PRERNA||Medicines, clothes, food & detergent|
|David Sassoon Infirm Asylum||Plastic drums with lids for storing food grain|
|Mobile Crèches||20 Blackboards|
|V-Care Foundation||Printing of Literature|
|Volunteers of Samaritans||HP 670C DeskJet Printer|
The above disbursements are independent of the grants given by the two Sub-Committees of Benevolence, of the District Grand Lodge and the Grand Chapter, which are also sizeable amounts.
In addition to various types of assistance given to the Institutions listed above, two distinct projects have been undertaken over the last two years to assist children -- assistance to the Central School of the Deaf and the Society for the Education of the Crippled.
A "Battery Cell Bank" has been set up for the Central School of the Deaf at Nagpada in Mumbai to ensure an uninterrupted supply of battery cells (pencil cells and button cells) used in hearing aids by the students. Most of the students belong to the weaker section of society, and cannot afford to bear the cost of cells for continuous use of their Hearing Aid. In the past, parents used to shut off the hearing aid of their child in order to conserve the battery cell, which greatly interfered in the progress of the child's rehabilitation. We are informed that the "Battery Cell Bank" has shown very positive results and hastened the process of bringing the students into the mainstream of society.
The Society for the Education of the Crippled in Mumbai is a premier institution for the handicapped. We learnt that on account of their physical handicap, such children were more prone to visual problems as compared to normal children. Eye check-up camps were organised for over 250 students, and spectacles were distributed free of cost to nearly 60 students. Eye corrections and surgery wherever needed is also attended free of cost. It is proposed to organise these camps on an annual basis as a follow up and yearly check-up.
Two new projects have been identified for implementation in the immediate future, to reach out to the rural poor and needy.
Under the dynamic Chairmanship of Bro. Kersi Limathwalla, the Committee continues with its good work. The focus in the future, as in the past, will continue to assist and aid institutions and organisations which are rendering commendable service to Society, but are not too well known and hence need assistance to increase their activities. We look forward to Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters in our District assisting us in this task.