Prof Mrinal Chatterjee

Recently I read an article, the crux of which is: despite a rich tradition and legacy of daan (charity), Indians are actually kanjoosh. They do not ‘give’ in charity. The article has impressive statistics to show that unlike the west, corporate India is not keen on charity.

It says that the culture of institutionalized philanthropy is relatively new to India, barring a Tata here or an Infosys there. Business houses have erected temples, built dharmasalas. But when it comes to doing something noticeable in the social sector, it has little to show.

The article goes on to suggest that forget the corporate bodies, even an average Indian gives a fraction of what his American counterpart and about half his South Asian counterpart gives in charity.

I wonder why? We give ‘chanda’ in all religious festivals willingly or through coercion. We willingly put in green backs in the hundi, strategically placed in front of almost all temples. We throw handfuls of coins towards the beggars, who crowd the entrance of the religious places. But why don’t we donate for social causes?

As a former journalist, I approached this question with a 5 ‘w’ and 1 ‘h’ strategy.

  1. Why give? Most of us are reluctant if not averse to give in charity. The first question that we ask ourselves: why to give? Can’t we utilize that money or article or time or whatever for ourselves or on second thought for our near and dear ones? Why give to strangers, without any hope of getting anything tangible in return?

2. What to give? Do we give money? What should be the appropriate amount?

3. Whom to give? This probably is the biggest question which plagues our decision. Credibility of the receiver is a big factor. We are familiar with religious places and beggars. But when it comes to giving to somebody or some institution for social causes- we really do not know whom to give. We are skeptical about the majority of the NGOs. We think they will usurp our hard earned money.

4. When to give? Do we give regularly- say once a month, or occasionally? Do we give on some occasion like say on the birthday of your son or when situation warrants like say when calamity has struck?

5. How and in which form? There are practical problems. Suppose I want to donate my old shirt. How do I give? There is hardly an institutional system working nationwide or even statewide? I understand there are some NGOs who are working on this in some large cities, but an institutional system is yet to be developed.

I feel we Indians are willing to give in charity. The problem is to translate the willingness to reality through a credible and efficient system. If that is taken care of, Indians will not hesitate to ‘give’ in charity. After all, we have a long history and legacy of philanthropy.

(The author is Regional Director Indian Institute of Mass Communication, IIMC Dhenkanal. Views are personal)