New Delhi, India – You’ve heard of a food bank, a book bank, maybe even a toy bank. But how about a “clothing bank”? Well, this one-of-a-kind charity model is handing out once-used wedding outfits – sarees, skirts and ankle-length dresses – donated by privileged families to women of limited means.
Led by Nasar Thootha, a taxi driver based in Thootha village, Malappuram district, Kerala state, southern India, the bank has so far helped over 260 underprivileged brides with free outfits for the most important day of their life.
Last year, using WhatsApp and Facebook, Thootha, 44, repatriated to Saudi Arabia, began asking people to hand over their inactive wedding dresses for the cause.
As word spread, a trickle quickly turned into a flood and dozens of bulky packages containing like-new dresses began to land on her doorstep, many anonymously.
“Wedding attire is all about vanity. They are worn for a few hours and then never come out of the cupboards. Realizing this, many families have come forward to support our cause, ”told Al Jazeera Thootha, who worked for a food supermarket in Riyadh for more than 10 years before returning to India eight years ago.
“Pass to others in need”
The philanthropist says he launched the “clothing bank” on an experimental basis in April 2020 from a room in his house. The bridal families contact him via Facebook and then go directly to the bank to select the dress of their choice, regardless of the cost.
“When the family doesn’t have the money to travel long distances, or if one of the members is sick, the dress is sent to them directly through our network of volunteers,” Thootha said, adding that ‘he never asks families to return the dress “but we encourage them to pass it on to others in need”.
The donated dresses are collected from different locations in Kerala through charities and friends. After dry cleaning, they are wrapped in airtight packages and stored neatly in racks in the humble rural abode of Thootha.
“With the grace of God, I personally don’t have to invest any money in running the clothing bank. I’m just one channel through which women who need it most receive them from kind donors, ”Thootha told Al Jazeera.
The success of the initiative has been such that the bank currently has more than 800 dresses in stock – ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 Indian rupees ($ 66 to 660) – which may be suitable for Muslim, Christian or Hindu brides.
Over time, contributions began to arrive not only from all over Kerala, but also from the neighboring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as well as the Non-Resident Indian Community (NRI) of the United Arab Emirates and Arabia. Arabia.
Mumbai-based Sakina Khan (name changed on request), 31, is the recipient of a Banarasi silk pink saree from the Clothing Bank for her wedding scheduled for December 27. She says it is the most precious gift she has ever received.
“My father and uncle both passed away when the Delta variant hit India this summer. I also lost my job as a teacher. So my mother, who cooks in four households, is the only member of the family who wins. We have already spent $ 5,000 for the venue and food for my wedding, so there was no more money to buy my wedding dress, ”explains the bride-to-be.
When she reached out to Thootha on Facebook, he was very helpful, she says. With no money to travel to Kerala, she simply chose her outfit over a video call. It was delivered within a week.
“When the package arrived last week, my mother and I collapsed and hugged in pure joy,” Khan told Al Jazeera.
What prompted a modest man with a large family of four, his wife, parents and a disabled sister to get involved in this cause?
“When I returned from Saudi Arabia, I was helping state agencies rehabilitate the poor and homeless. During this time, I met many families who had difficulty arranging wedding dresses for their daughters, which are usually expensive. So I decided to help them, ”Thootha said.
The philanthropist initially operated the bank from his home, but admiring his dedication and expansion, a friend of his offered a one-room store for the business near his home. Thootha says he plans to move the bank to this new location in March of next year.
Does he intend to stock the bride and groom’s dresses as well? After all, men also want to look stylish on their big day. “Well, we haven’t received any requests for groom outfits so far. Only brides. If we receive such requests, we can also consider storing them, ”he laughs.
Besides her taxi, Thootha also operates an ambulance service. Here, too, he tries to help as many people as possible. It makes rides free for those who can’t afford it.
“During the pandemic, I helped many poor families transport their deceased loved ones to the crematorium for free. Usually I only charge those who can afford the ambulance. Some kind people also donate gasoline or money to maintain my ambulance, ”he explains.
India’s wedding industry is estimated at $ 50 billion, just behind the $ 72 billion industry in the United States, according to a report from IBISWorld, a United States-based data research company. While the rich can afford to splurge on big and big marriages, it is the poor who face immense difficulties in marrying their children.
“Indian families spend a lot of money on place, food, clothes, jewelry and gifts for their loved ones. Loans taken out for weddings from pawn shops often result in astronomical interest rates and crippling debt for the poor. Failure to pay can also lead to public shame or suicide, ”Ranjana Kumari, activist and director of the Center for Social Research, a women’s rights organization, told Al Jazeera.
In 2016, a 58-year-old farmer committed suicide along with family members in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district after his failed attempts to secure funds for his eldest daughter’s wedding from friends.
In another incident, 25-year-old Vipin (who bore her first name only) committed suicide last week in the Thrissur district of Kerala after failing to secure a loan for her sister’s marriage.
According to a survey by LenDenClub, a digital loan company, marriage loans accounted for over 35% of all other loans taken by Indians. According to data analyzed by the company, the demand for marriage loans has jumped 40% in 2021 compared to 2020.