The legacy of Pakistan’s humanitarian power couple
They say there’s a woman behind every successful man, such was the case with Pakistan’s beloved Edhi couple. Yesterday, Bilquis Bano Edhi breathed her last in Karachi, leaving the orphan children motherless once again. She was a trained nurse who managed maternity clinics and set up baby cradles outside Edhi Foundation locations around Pakistan, which saved 42,000 unwanted children. For years, along with her husband and the founder of Edhi Foundation, Abdul Sattar Edhi, the philanthropic couple saved many from humanitarian crisis.
In an interview with BBC Urdu, Bilquis Bano once stated that Edhi purchased his first ambulance for Rs2,000, “It’s the same van we went for Hajj in.” The Asian flu, which struck in 1957, proved to be the first true test of Edhis’ willingness to serve humanity. Collecting chaarpais, enlisting the help of boys who worked as doctors at Civil Hospital, that’s how the foundation kickstarted.
The couple that saved numerous lives were also deemed ‘non-believers’ by their neighbors when they’d help non-Muslims, “A number of fatwas were imposed on my husband, he was told that he wouldn’t go to Paradise,” to which Edhi sahab would say, “My ambulance is more Muslim than you people. I don’t want to go to an extremist’s heaven.”
In 2010, an 11 year-old Indian girl, who was also deaf and mute, somehow crossed the border of Pakistan and was brought to Edhi foundation. Bilquis Bano named her Fatima, “But when I noticed her ways, how she touches feet, etc, I realised she’s Hindu, so I changed her name to Geeta.”
Mrs Edhi even used to take her to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on M.A. Jinnah Road for pooja, she also asked Geeta to buy some Hindi deity posters and statues to create a home shrine where she could pray privately. Geeta’s condition never presented a communication barrier with Bilquis Bano, who could comprehend her pretty well, as she was used to working with people with a variety of challenges.
Geeta was sent back home in 2015, after her story became popular and Indian external affair minister Sushma Swaraj made arrangements for the girl’s return to her home country.
Bilquis Bano once recalled an incident where she and her husband were dropping a woman home, whose child had just passed away and the ambulance was stopped by a bunch of muggers. On finding out that the man inside is Abdul Sattar Edhi, the robbers came up to him, kissed his hands and said, “We know when we die, you will bury us,” and gave him Rs100.
The country lost its greatest asset in 2016 and now with his wife passing away, in a community that is now plagued with extremism, where hate knows no bounds, where tolerance is a concept too foreign, Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Bano saved generations from leading a meaningless life, heir legacy must be continued.