Wednesday, 18 January 2017


Give versus get

India today has some of the richest men in the world. Yet, India is still starved of charitable funds from which organized social work groups can draw from. Most of them therefore have to look for funds from private charitable trusts and foundations in the West to pursue their works. It is another matter that the present government is squeezing many of these NGOs of these fund sources, suspecting ulterior motives behind these foreign funds. The question is, why are there no such funds in India. One of the answers given is, there is a basic difference between the West and the East in attitude towards ideal citizenship, although it must be noted this explanation has a danger of this serving to feed to familiar stereotype. Once again, it is about a difference in the outlook towards the ways of the society. Hence, in the Western context one often gets to hear individuals talk of model citizenship as constituting of paying taxes honestly, respecting rule of law, looking up to democratic norms etc. Interestingly, the list of virtues includes one other quality, namely that of donating to charity. Philanthropy is structured into the Western society’s notion of good citizenship and many explain this not just a matter of large-heartedness or selflessness, but more a question of what many refer to as enlightened self-interest. The benefits of the money an individual gives to charity will on the one hand directly benefit the needy, but in an indirect and roundabout way, the benefits would come to the donor as well, not just in a metaphysical religious way, but also very much materialistically. There are plenty of examples for this, but first a little more elaboration on the structure of this philanthropy. Italy’s income tax law for instance has a clause whereby a tax payer can give 0.8 percent of his income tax due to any of a list of government recognized charitable organisations. If the individual does not wish to do so, he or she will have to in any case pay the amount to the government. Many actually pay the 0.8 to religious charitable organisations (as IFP found out during a trip to the country some years ago) and the country being largely Catholic, a majority of this public charity go to Catholic organisations, Charitas being just one of the most prominent, and a name familiar to many developing countries. It goes without saying 0.8 percent of income tax base of a developed nation is by no means unsubstantial, and this is the kind of money available with this trust to fund charitable work all over the world, including setting up schools and hospitals for the weaker sections, and not the least to spread the religion. In many ways, for the West, donating to charity is an intuitive individual strategy for achieving social harmony.

This enlightened self-interest is seen in other Western countries too. The USA for instance must rank top in terms of the number of extremely rich trusts and foundations, funding charitable projects internationally. It is also true that a good many influential Indian middle class families have children studying in the US on some fellowship provided by these American trusts. Understandably, if one’s son or daughter is studying in America on American scholarship, or is working there after the programme, one would most likely have at least something nice to say about America. The implication is, this charity has a bearing on international diplomacy and politics too. The enlightened self-interest here is obvious. Former chairman of Chrysler Lee Iacocca in his irreverent criticism of Henry Ford-II his former boss and later sworn enemy, (in his autobiography:”Lee Iacocca”) puts this in a crass way when he claimed that Ford was interested in uplifting the working class and creating a middle class out of them so that they would have the money to buy his cars. Iacocca’s statement may have been a result of personal spite, all the same he outlined a deep and basic psychology behind Western philanthropy – you get as much as you give.

Contrast this with the Eastern notion of a model citizen. The mantra all of us have heard and internalized from early childhood, is that good citizenship basically constitutes of respecting one’s parents, elders, teachers, praying at the temples, mosques and churches etc. The civic nature of citizenship is thus treated as secondary, and one which would follow as a corollary of the metaphysical set of values. Citizenship is no longer something the structure of the state can help mould, but a spiritual, a non-materialistic goal. Donating to public charities plays little part in this scheme of things too. Hence, while India has many super rich citizens, charitable trusts rich enough to fund social projects in a big way still remains negligible.

11-Jan-2017 / IFP Editorials / 0 Comments


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