“In India, you have many billionaires who are buying European companies these days. Why don’t these rich people help the poor in India?” was the reaction of many in Europe to the number of appeals for funds made by Indian NGOs. There was a time when several individuals and agencies in Europe generously supported various socio-educational projects in India. Today, due to economic slowdown in these countries and change of attitude of people, funding agencies face difficulty in raising funds. India is no more a priority for many agencies. They find India’s economy is growing. Many have shifted their focus to countries in Africa and other poor countries.
When Bill Gates of Micro Soft decided to give away 50% of his wealth to establish a Foundation to help the poor nations to eradicate poverty and sickness, I realized the meaning of the critical remark made by the Europeans about Indian billionaires. Another rich man in America, Warren Buffett gave away 90% of his fortune in charity to the Bill Gates Foundation and some other organizations. Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett asked the rich people of America to contribute their 50% wealth to charities. They had the credibility to ask them to do so.
Indians boasting of their religious heritage are very slow to part with their wealth for a humanitarian cause. People who are religious may contribute a small share to build their own worship places such as temples, churches and mosques. During natural disasters, people contribute small amount more out of social compulsion than due to sensitivity to those in distress
Big companies are obliged to spend part of their income for social cause as part of their corporate social responsibility. Indians, probably because of their obsession with religion and worship of many gods, neglect their responsibility to the nation and its neighbours. While they are devotees of gods and godmen they try to cheat the government by evading taxes in small and big ways. As they avoid their responsibility to the country they also avoid their social responsibility. Many find ways and means to avoid the corporate social responsibility.
India lags significantly behind developed nations in charity contributions. Indeed, it is a shame for a nation with many billionaires and millionaires doing business in its land not willing to help the poor and the needy. The little charity done by the rich is around their companies and religious institutions. They shower offerings to their favourite gods and god men. They show very little concern for the poor who are struggling in the remote villages and organisations genuinely struggling to change conditions in society. Indians are more eager to please their gods than building the nation. Loyalty to one’s religion and attachment to one’s own family blocks the rich of India from giving for the welfare of the society. Tatas who ‘created wealth for the nation’ were the only exception in the past. Today we have a great philanthropist in Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro, who donated shares worth Rs. 53,000 crore to philanthropic causes. He has donated USD 21 billion to charitable causes till date which is nearly twice India’s private sector funds raised towards social causes in the past five years. Apart from Premji, Biocon MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani are some of the most charitable Indian billionaires who have pledged to donate 75 per cent and 50 per cent of their wealth to charity respectively.
In contrast to these persons Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, the richest man in India, has contributed merely 0.1% of his total wealth to charitable causes. It was reported in the media that he spent Rs. 710 crore for the wedding of his daughter Isha. He hired 200 chartered flights to fly guests to Udaipur where the week-long extravaganza was organized. Many rich people copy similar display of wealth for weddings and other celebrations and religious festivals. When it comes to spending on philanthropy these rich people lack generosity and sensitivity. They make hundreds of lame excuses.
What is worse is denying justice to the workers and exploiting the poor. There are many industrialists and business people who make use of all means to evade tax to Government and refuse to pay just wages and other benefits to the workers who help to make a profit to the company. Thousands of workers toil day and night without receiving just wages and other benefits. They suffer silently all kinds of injustice and oppression. The paradox is that these industrialists and business people offer ornaments made out of diamonds and gold to the lifeless statues in the pilgrim centres. Philanthropy is alien to them who do not understand the meaning of justice and human dignity.
In our country, there are people who are willing to donate money for routine charity programmes such as feeding the poor and supporting the orphanages. However, activities such as awareness generation about various social issues, human rights education, youth animation and works aimed at building peace and communal harmony in the society do not find many donors. These are not their priorities.
People in Europe and US, even today, feel obliged to share their fortune with marginalized people in the underdeveloped countries. Expressing solidarity with the less privileged should not be the obligation of the billionaires and millionaires. Developing concern for the nation and sensitivity to the marginalized should be part of education and spirituality of all citizens. Giving donations on request to build one’s own community’s temples and churches is not a sign of spirituality. Let each person learn to keep a certain percentage of his income for charities and social action.
When families and religious communities start this practice, philanthropy will become a way of life and the face of our country will change. It is heartening to see school students, after an intensive awareness program, resolving to contribute one to ten per cent of their pocket money for this purpose. They not only say but do it faithfully. By creating awareness about the social inequalities and providing exposure to the poverty existing in the country, the children and youth can be motivated to share by making sacrifices of their luxuries. They will learn to shun the display of wealth during weddings and other celebrations and will support their needy fellow beings.
If philanthropy can be developed as our national character there is no need for Indian NGOs to beg from foreign funding agencies. Indians can rebuild India and remove poverty, provided they develop altruism to express sensitivity to their brothers and sisters who suffer. Loans from World Bank and IMF will only make Indians slaves with increasing debt on their heads. Charity from foreign agencies will deprive us of our dignity and self-respect. 1.3 billion Indians can raise billions of rupees to make India great. It is a matter of attitude and setting priority.
Philanthropy should be considered as spirituality. Efforts should be made to educate people that God is dwelling in every human being irrespective of one’s religion, caste and nationality. Several people in India do charity to those who belong to their religion, caste and region. Often charity is given after verifying the religion, caste and similar identities. Educating people to go beyond religiosity is very important to raise philanthropy as an act of spirituality. Recognizing God in every human being makes philanthropy a spiritual act. God would say, “Whatsoever you did to these little ones you have done to me”. Service to the needy human being is a greater worship than all offerings one does in a temple, church, mosque or any other worship place. When cultic religion and rituals are replaced by selfless service to living gods in flesh and blood, philanthropy, peace and universal solidarity will thrive.
(Published on 25th March 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 13)