New Delhi, India – You have heard of a food bank, a book bank, maybe even a toy bank. What about a “dress bank”? This unique charity model gives away once-used items wedding attires – saris, ankle-length skirts and dresses – donated by privileged families to women of limited means.
Run by Nasar Thootha, a taxi driver based in Thootha village in Malappuram district of India’s southern state of Kerala, the bank has so far helped more than 260 underprivileged brides with free outfits for the most important day of their lives.
Thootha, a Saudi Arabian returnee aged 44, began asking people to pass on their idleness last year using Facebook and WhatsApp. weddingDress for the cause
According to the philanthropist, he founded the ‘dress bank’Experimental basis in April 2020 [Courtesy: Nasar Thootha]
The word spread quickly and a trickle quickly became a flood. Soon, dozens of bulky packages containing new-styled dresses began arriving at his doorstep. Many were anonymous.
“Wedding attires are all about vanity. They are worn for a few hours and then never come out of the cupboards. Realising this, many families came forward to support our cause,”Thootha, a former employee of a food store in Riyadh, told Al Jazeera that she worked there for more 10 years before returning to India eighteen years ago.
‘Pass on to the other needy’
According to the philanthropist, he founded the “dress bank”In April 2020, he will experiment with the idea of having the wedding in his bedroom. The brides’ families contact him through Facebook and then directly visit the bank to select the dressThey have the right to choose what they want, regardless how much it costs.
“When the family doesn’t have the money to travel a long distance, or if any of the members are ill, the dress is sent directly to them through our network of volunteers,”Thootha added that he never asks families to return the money. dress “but we do encourage them to pass them on to the other needy”.
Donated dresses are collected from various locations in Kerala by charity organisations and friends. After dry-cleaning, they are wrapped in airtight packets and stocked neatly in racks in Thootha’s humble rural abode.
“With God’s grace, I personally don’t have to invest any money in running the dress bank. I am just a channel through which women who need them most receive them from kind donors,”Thootha spoke to Al Jazeera.
Such has been the initiative’s success that the bank currently has more than 800 dresses in stock – ranging in prices from 5,000-50,000 Indian rupees ($66-660) – that can work for Muslim, Christian or Hindu brides.
Contributions have begun to come in from all over Kerala and from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states as well as the non-resident Indian (NRI), community in the United Arab Emirates.
Other than the dressThootha bank also operates a taxi- and ambulance service [Courtesy: Nasar Thootha]
Sakina Khan, a Mumbai-based woman (name changed upon request), is the recipient of a pink Banarasi silk scarf from the dressShe has a date with a bank to pay for her wedding on December 27. She said it was the most valuable gift she’s ever received.
“My father and uncle both passed away when the Delta variant hit India this summer. I also lost my job as a school teacher. So my mother, who cooks food in four homes, is the only earning family member. We have already spent $5,000 on venue and food for my wedding, so there was no money left to buy my wedding dress,”The bride-to be says.
Thootha was extremely helpful when she reached out to him via Facebook. She chose her outfit via video call, as she didn’t have the money to travel to Kerala. It arrived in less than a week.
“When the packet arrived last week, me and my mum broke down and hugged each other in sheer joy,”Khan told Al Jazeera.
What led a man of modest means to join this cause with his large family of four kids, wife, parents, and a disabled sister?
“After returning from Saudi Arabia, I was helping state agencies rehabilitate the poor and homeless. During that period, I met many families who were struggling to arrange wedding dresses for their daughters, which are usually expensive. So I decided to help them,”Thootha.
The philanthropist initially operated the bank from his home, but admiring his dedication and expanding operation, one of his friends offered a one-room shop for the venture near his place. Thootha said that he plans to move the bank to this new location by March next year.
Does he have plans to stock grooms’ dresses also? Men also want to look good on their big day. “Well, we have not received any requests for bridegroom’s outfits so far. Only brides. If we get such inquiries, we can consider stocking them as well,”He says it laughing.
Thootha runs an ambulance service as well as his taxi. He also runs an ambulance service. He offers rides for free to those who can’t afford them.
“During the pandemic, I helped many poor families transport their dead relatives to the crematorium free of cost. Generally, I charge only those who can afford the ambulance. Some good-hearted people also donate petrol or maintenance money for my ambulance,”He explains.
The Indian weddingAccording to IBISWorld, an American data research firm, the industry is valued at $50bn. This is second only to the $72bn sector in the United States. The wealthy can afford big, luxurious weddings. However, the poor must endure great hardships to get married.
“Indian families spend significant sums of money on the venue, food, outfits, jewellery, and gifts for their relatives. Loans taken for weddings from moneylenders often entail astronomical interest rates and crippling debts for the poor. Inability to pay can also result in public shaming or suicides,” Ranjana Kumari, a female activist and director of Centre for Social Research, a women’s advocacy organisation, told Al Jazeera.
In 2016, a 58-year old farmer died by suicide along with his family members in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district after his attempts to arrange funds for his elder daughter’s marriage from his friends failed.
In another incident, 25-year-old Vipin (who went by his first name only) took his own life last week in Kerala’s Thrissur district after failing to get a loan for his sister’s marriage.
According to LenDenClub (a digital lending company), a survey was conducted. weddingMore than 35 percent of all Indians took out loans for other purposes. According to the company’s data, the demand for these loans is high. weddingLoans rose by 40% in 2021, compared to 2020.