Misquil Bagh To Rahat: In Her Grandmother-in-law’s Footsteps22 April 2010
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Two generations ago, Sheikh Abdullah’s begum, christened Madhar-e-Meherban, started what was possibly Kashmir’s first NGO for children. Decades later, her granddaughter-in-law and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s wife Payal, is taking that legacy forward. Soon after the earthquake in the region in 2005, Payal formed the Rahat Foundation to help the distressed. The organisation has expanded in scope today, helping children and even adopting black bears. Payal said: “Before Rahat, the first person in the state I had informally helped was the family of a man who was a loader with Jet Airways. He was not the victim of a gruesome militant attack or a bomb. He died in a motorcycle accident, and I helped his wife and sponsored his son’s education.” Rahat has been low profile, taking care of the medical and educational needs of orphans or children with single parents. Cautious before, while her husband was in the Opposition, Payal is finally ready to talk about this - and work in other states. In a way, the family has come full circle. Payal said: “Sheikh saab’s wife was called ‘mother’ because she helped those in need. There was a gap after her and the government took over her organisation Misquil Bagh. Now we are back to helping children and want to work in other parts of India too.” Husband Omar is “supportive, and does not interfere”. “After the earthquake, I told him I would help. I took off with the supplies. I went to places which were eight hours away from big cities. People ask me, what are the children like? What are the stories of the orphans? And I say, ‘children are children everywhere’.” “When I married Omar, I was not struck by the lack of education in the state - rather the lack of opportunity. Every second person I met there was a doctor or an engineer. People in several parts of the state speak very good English. I think we need to take opportunity there.” Rahat is now ready to rope in some Capital glamour: it will throw the first charity ball this Saturday at the Taj Palace. Tickets are Rs 15,000.