When Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, died in January, 30 volunteers from Karachi were among the 3,500 from across the world who assisted the Mumbai Police in controlling the crowds during the funeral.
They are all a part of the community’s disciplinary force known as the Burhani Guards International (BGI), which has a membership of over 6,000 volunteers from different parts of the world, including the US, East Africa and Europe.
The BGI’s Karachi group comprises 450 volunteers. When Syedna Burhanuddin celebrated his 100th birthday in 2011, over 100 volunteers from Karachi arrived in Mumbai. “In the last two-three years, the embassy has been more flexible with double or triple-entry Indian visas with a validity of six months to one year… Thanks to these multiple-entry visas, around 15 guards could immediately travel to India when the Syedna died,” said Hasnain Jack, BGI, Karachi.
“Irrespective of which country the guards come from, we are all a part of the Bohri family. It does not cross our minds to ask which country each one is from. We wear the same uniform, speak the same language and share a common passion for serving the community. We do not have geographical boundaries,” said Muffadal Kothari, joint secretary, BGI, Mumbai.
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The BGI was set up by Syedna Burhanuddin in 1994, after the riots in Mumbai. “Earlier, there were a number of local volunteer groups which took up the task of enforcing discipline at community functions. However, after the riots, the Syedna streamlined these bodies. The BGI was thus created,” said Shabbir Bharmal, a member of the BGI advisory committee. The volunteers fund their travel, accommodation and other expenses. When Syedna Burhanuddin was alive, they travelled across the globe for his events, helping in crowd management and providing paramedical services. At the local level, the BGI, Mumbai, also assisted the police during the 2008 terror attacks.