India, now has the dubious reputation of being in the bottom few in most global surveys, be it women friendliness, domestic violence (on top here), safety for the girl child, hunger or education. Another one to add to this bottom’s list is the Global Giving Index. The 2011 figure shows that we are number 91 as against 134 in 2010. HT very enthusiastically put it as "Catching up with the rest of the world".
But even before this article came out in the papers, I have had quite a few intense discussions with my friends on ‘giving’. Well, we really don’t need Global Indexes to tell us that we don’t really do charity. And by charity I don’t mean giving previous night’s rotis to a cow or Rs.2 to a child on the street. By charity I mean large hearted donations for a bigger cause. Or taking time out from work to volunteer for something you believe in.
For most middle class families, donation is limited to a temple or priests or pujas. It really didn’t matter where the money went as long as you gave it in the name of God. One of the reasons for this so called ‘un’ charitable attitude is the fact that till a few decades ago, most NGOs couldn’t be trusted. Like most political parties, monies given to NGOs couldn’t be traced. The third reason is that most of us who are currently at the most ‘charity affording’ stage in life, have known a life where our parents had struggled for everything and we had to prioritise on what we wanted the most. Then came economic liberation which was like throwing a deprived child into a candy store. Now we want everything we can lay our hands on. Nobody has the time to look at the person standing next to you, extend a hand and give a candy.
Yes, there is a vague knowledge that a poor unjust world exists out there, but first one has to buy the second home, go on that much awaited cruise around the arctic region, buy a few Jimmy Choo shoes. Suddenly we are in the midst of unstoppable greed. And where greed exists, there can never be charity.
One argument which most of my friends give (and all of them have made it in life career wise) about not donating is that they would rather give it to somebody who they know will benefit directly. Like giving a job to a needy, providing TV or school books to schools or hostels, giving blankets to homeless etc. Not that these deeds are less generous or unworthy, but it solves perhaps .0001% of the problem that is India. Go out of your safely ensconced homes and cities and see what’s happening. Media is not enough. See how farmers are struggling to earn money for the food they grow for us, how government schemes are not reaching people even after 60 years of earning their due, how mining and power companies are destroying forests and taking up land in the name of development, how little girls are being treated.
Who will change these? The government – ideally yes but in reality no. The NGOs (or CSOs as they like to be called now a days) – perhaps, with good work being done by many CSOs now but work is limited to specific regions and not whole. Corporates – they can but in India they have a long way to go.
Whether you like it or not, it can change when we change how we view our world.
And the only way to start the change is by stopping our greed. Just pause for a while and take a real look around you.