Unmatched Philanthropy - The Tata's Way
  • Abdul Salim Sheikh and his wife, Ava (In pic with their daughter)/ Photo: Amey
    Mansabdar Wah Taj

    Setting an example of unmatched philanthropy, the Taj welfare trust has been
    helping not only the families of Taj group’s employees and guests but also
    other victims of the 26/11 attack

    By Nandini Oza

    Not so long ago, Momima Khatoon lived happily in the Mumbai slum Govandi with
    her husband, Mohammad Umar, and three children. The luxuries of life were out
    of her reach, but she had no complaints. The events that unfolded on November
    26, 2008 changed it all. When terror struck the landmark Taj Mahal Palace, far
    away, her beautiful world shattered.

    On the fateful day, Mohammad left home at 7 p.m., his usual time. He did not
    return the next day, but the news of his death in a blast inside the taxi he
    drove did. November 26 claimed the lives of many others, who left behind
    grieving wives, daughters and sons, parents and friends. The 26/11 terror
    attack not only shook Mumbai but the entire country and changed the course of

    Momima is illiterate. Mohammad, who was the sole breadwinner in the family, had
    no savings. Without income, Momima struggled to put food on the table and pay
    the monthly rent of Rs. 1,600 for her kholi (home). Fate had thrust another
    responsibility on her. Momima’s fourth son, Harhaan, was born a few months
    after Mohammad’s death. She knew the Rs.5 lakh compensation given by the
    government would run out soon.
    The Taj Public Service Welfare Trust, set up days after the 26/11 attacks, came
    to her rescue. The trust has been giving her Rs.10,000 a month for the last
    seven months. “I have no idea what the future has in store for me. But for this
    support from the trust, I would have killed myself,” Momima tells THE WEEK.

    In addition to providing the money, the trust has also taken up the
    responsibility of funding her children’s education, for which she is grateful.
    “The fee is directly deposited in the school,” she says. “I was offered a job
    by the trust but I could not go as there was nobody to look after my children.”

    This young Muslim woman is one of the many who are rebuilding their lives,
    thanks to the trust. Setting an example of unmatched philanthropy, the trust
    has been helping 138 victims of the attack and their families at a time when
    corporate social responsibility either is shrinking or is limited to the areas
    in or around the industry. To date, the trust has spent Rs. 2.214 crore on
    families who were affected by the terror attack but have no direct connection
    with the Taj group. It does not include the money given to the family members
    of the Taj employees and guests who were killed or injured in the attack. One
    year on, the trust has also accumulated Rs. 9.03 crore as donation.

    Ramachandran Nair, 30, a native of Palakkad in Kerala, worked in his brother’s
    shop near Leopold Café where the terrorists went on a shooting spree. He was
    injured in the right leg and was hospitalised for 10 days. He was on medication
    for over three months. Using the compensation money and the monthly sustenance
    money given by the trust, Ramachandran started a business. An additional
    Rs.91,000 was given to him for renovating the shop. “Tatas provided me
    financial assistance of Rs.91,000. I have taken a shop on rent for Rs.18,000 a
    month in Fort to do a wholesale business in eggs,” says Ramachandran, who is
    not sure why the trust chose to help him.

    “Having formed the trust days after the attack, going about it was not easy,”
    says H.N. Shrinivas, senior vice-president, human resources and business
    excellence, The Indian Hotels Company Limited. Tata Institute of Social
    Sciences was roped in to collect information on the requirements of the 400
    families affected by the tragedy. The surveyors—in an exercise that took over a
    month—came back with details on social status, financial requirements and
    emotional and psychological help needed by the people. Well-trained counsellors
    were sent to the victims’ houses. It was an arduous effort to convince people,
    who were under stress, to give details.

    The trust wants to make the families self-sustainable at the earliest. It
    offers support in the form of monthly sustenance, medical/hospitalisation
    support, children’s education, and help to pursue a livelihood and for setting
    up of a micro-enterprise. The families are also given psychological counselling
    and post-treatment assistance.

    The gesture, Shrinivas says, is a tribute to those who lost their lives in the
    attack. “Taj, a victim, is sharing its emotions. Money came from various
    quarters—Tata company, HDFC, some individuals and trusts,” he says.

    When it came to its own employees, the Taj group did much more than anyone
    could have expected. Twelve employees of the group died in the attack and nine
    were injured. “I could not have asked for more. I will get my husband’s last
    drawn salary as long as I live. This is apart from a lump sum amount running
    into lakhs, children’s education and medical insurance,” says Sunu, whose
    husband Varghese Thomas, a senior captain at the Taj, died in the attack.

    Even when the hotel was closed for renovation, all the employees were given
    salaries through money orders and not a single person was laid off. Employee
    outreach centres were opened and first aid and counselling were provided.

    According to sources, the trust has spent nearly Rs.50 lakh on the treatment of
    a guest who was injured in the attack. It has also footed the bills for the
    treatment of another guest who was dining with her parents and brother-in-law
    in one of the restaurants in the Taj. While she survived, her relatives died in
    the attack.

    Shabaaz Mohammed, 20, was injured in the taxi blast. Though his family is not
    dependent on his income—his father Zuber works in the Bombay Dock Yard—an
    assistance of Rs.5,000 a month for six months came in handy, says Husnabanu,
    his mother. “My husband does not get his full salary as we had taken a loan
    for my heart operation in 2005 for which we had spent Rs.1.90 lakh,” she says.

    “Last year some people came and asked how far Shabaaz had studied. He didn’t
    talk much as he was in shock. He still is in shock. Those who came did not tell
    us that they were from the Tata group. Thereafter, we started getting financial
    assistance,” she says.
    “Shabaaz was given a job at the Taj Lands End in Bandra but he could work only
    for two months. He became very weak and could not take the workload,” says
    Husnabanu. Post-recovery, Shabaaz has been rehired by the Taj. He is at present
    working at the Taj President.

    Bang opposite the Dock Yard Colony is a slum settlement where Abdul Salim
    Sheikh lives with his family in a dingy little kholi. Abdul and his wife, Ava,
    were sitting outside their house when the blast in the taxi took place,
    injuring them both. In the following months Abdul, who was unable to work
    because of his injuries, lost his job as a cook in a hotel.

    Part of the compensation, given by the government, was used up to pay off a
    loan of Rs.20,000 taken to meet the expenses during the time Abdul could not
    work. As the family was struggling to make ends meet, the money provided by the
    trust came as a great relief. Abdul was given Rs.5,000 a month for a year and
    Ava Rs.5,000 for six months. Later, Abdul was given a job in the Taj kitchen in
    Andheri and Ava found a place in the housekeeping department of the Taj in

    “Our only hope is that Abdul gets a permanent job in the Taj,” says Ava. The
    couple does not have to worry on one count: “The trust will take care of our
    children’s education.”

    These victims, who have been employed in different hotels of the Taj group, are
    on a one-year training programme. “They are employees and are given a stipend,”
    says Deepak Bhatia, manager of the trust. For Bhatia, it has been a satisfying
    experience over the last one and a half years. “We are trying to rebuild the
    lives of these families and making them self-sufficient,” he says.

    The story of Rajkumari and her family is similar to that of Momima. They, too,
    have lost their sole breadwinner. Shivshanker Gupta, Rajkumari’s husband, died
    in the attack at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where he sold bhelpuri.
    “They [Taj group] offered to train my mother after which she was to get a job,”
    says Neelam, 18, a class X student and the eldest of four siblings. But fate
    did not allow Rajkumari to lap up the opportunity. Not used to going out of the
    house, Rajkumari found travelling an hour daily from her chawl in Mankurd to
    the training venue challenging, and eventually she gave up.

    “The amount that we received as compensation is dwindling fast. I do not know
    how long we will be able to survive like this,” says Rajkumari. “We pay
    Rs.1,200 a month as rent for the kholi. If I think of buying a kholi then the
    compensation money will get over. Earlier, we could manage as my husband used
    to earn Rs.150 to Rs.200 a day,” she says.

    Neelam, who is the smartest in the family, says she is overwhelmed by the
    support provided by the trust. “We had nothing to do with the Taj group but
    they have given us money considering it their responsibility,” she says.
    Neelam plans to finish school and do a computer course to support her family.

    For victims like Momima and Rajkumari, the compensation money won’t take them
    far. Do these compensation packages do any good? Perhaps, not in the long run.

    Professor Anil Gupta of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, while lauding
    the good gesture of the Tatas, strongly feels the need for a review of the
    relief and compensation packages at the national level. Often, inadequate or
    late compensation acts like salt rubbed into the wounds of the victims and
    their families. These packages should not only take care of the monetary aspect
    but also look into rehabilitation and children’s education. The trust has gone
    one step ahead by extending relief to victims of sudden acts of violence,
    natural disasters and other tragic events that inflict damage to life and
    property. A few months ago, it helped 307 families affected by fire and cyclone
    in Bihar.

    Even as the government spends crores of rupees on the safe custody of the
    terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the trust’s short-term relief in form of medical and
    financial assistance is helping many get on with their lives.

    The trust’s long-term initiative includes skill training and, as Shrinivas
    says, more than 25 per cent of the trained people will be employed in the Taj
    and the rest will be given certificates that will help them find employment
    elsewhere. The trust is also setting up a hospitality module at ITI Lonavala to
    impart training on a variety of skills like housekeeping, restaurant service,
    food production and hygiene.

    According to Vasant Ayyappan, director (corporate sustainability) at The Indian
    Hotels Company Limited, one of the most challenging aspects has been to ensure
    that the money goes to the right people at the right time and that is why in
    cases where the victims or their family members did not have accounts, new
    accounts were opened and a proper system has been set up for follow-ups.
    And the efforts earned the Taj group permanent accounts in the minds of all
    those touched by the project.

    http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentType=EDITORIAL&sectionName=COVER STORY&programId=1073755753&[email protected]@@&contentId=7956638
  • The way Sri Ratan Tata responded to the attck isan example of Leadership. The same leadership was shown by the employees of Taj hotel.The manager was helping the guests when he knew that he lost his entire family staying above,

    I was told by one of my former employer who was very clsoe to them that all Tatas are like this and the every Tata is a Bharat Ratna.
  • I too read about this long back. Tata's are known for thier honesty and
    humility. They do everything silently. One for the straight forward
    companies inthe world. Heard they dont break any rules to do business.

    The story of JRD tata's gesture, told by Infy Chairman Narayanamurthy's wife
    Sudha Murthy is very famous - when she joined Tata as a new employee, one
    day it was late and she was waiting in the dark corrider of her office for
    her father (or brother, dont remember) to pick her up, when one gentleman
    walked by and seeing her enquired why she is there and waitied till she was
    safely picked up by her family. Later she came to know that it was JRD Tata.
    He took care of his employees so much that he didnt leave a young lady
    unattended during odd hours in his office.

    Tata's are an asset to India.
  • Hi Satish,
    One correction in this, Ms Sudha was waiting for her husband, Mr Narayanamurthi
    at that time :). And I agree that Tatas have done good and honest job for the
    country and business. However I have a feeling that the coming generation might
    not be that efficient and good as their ancestors. However this is a just a
    feeling and I have no evidence as such to support this. Viewer's discretion

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