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LIVING IS INDEED GIVING!
Opinion

LIVING IS INDEED GIVING!

Prof. T K Thomas

There appears to be no dearth of people “giving” their money and time for others who are in need. It may be someone ready to part with a few rupees left in his pocket to help someone who has nothing or some super rich person ready to sponsor, at a monthly payment of a couple of thousand rupees, an orphan in a charitable home. The willingness of both the persons in this example is the same and both experience a rare joy of giving to others in need.

A one week long annual ” #Daan Utsav” or “Joy of Giving “, the country’s “Largest Festival of Generosity ” was launched last Tuesday 2nd of October which coincided with the 150th birth anniversary of our Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi which ends today, Tuesday, 8th October 2019. Behind this volunteer driven philanthropic initiative is ‘’#Giving Tuesday ‘’, a global generosity movement and Guide Star India, a premier NGO information repository. The Daan Utsav is annually held across the country by NGOs, individuals and corporate houses. According to thelogicalindian.com/news/ the Festival provides an opportunity to auto rickshaw drivers, CEOs, school children, celebrities, home makers, leaders, and innumerable ordinary people to come together to give their time, money, resources, or skills back to society.

Indian Oil, one of the participants of Daan Utsav hosted stalls in 50 petrol pumps to voluntary organizations. The stalls put up by NGOs were on causes like education, health, women’s issues, shelters for poor etc. They succeeded in creating awareness among people and mobilized funds for activities. Delhi Metro collected books and stationery items for underprivileged children. Goonj, involved in relief and rehabilitation work held an awareness session on the recent floods in different parts of India and collected relief materials for victims of floods in Jalvayu Vihar in Delhi. Students of Ethiraj College in Chennai pledged to donate food materials to children in shelter homes for underprivileged children. Large number of organizations, like Goonj were active in this year’s Daan Utsav and reached out to lakhs of people to inspire them to participate in the process of celebrating generosity.

Chairman of Nada India Foundation Suneel Vatsyayan who had put up a stall in one of the Indian Oil pumps in South Delhi said,” It has been an innovatory experience for Nada India team to conduct a preventive health camp at the IOC pump. Volunteers offered a gentle massage therapy on ears of commuters and drivers for relaxation and put a magnetic bead for balanced driving. Cartoonist Abilash highlighted the theme of how families suffer when something happens to their loved ones and the presence of Harish Bhutani, national award winner gave a boost to Nada India campaign of alcohol prevention while driving. Daan Utsav and Giving Tuesday are collective opportunity of celebration of generosity for well being.”

We have so far focused on how corporates, NGOs, and the man in the street getting involved in the act of giving. Look at the list of a new stable of achievers who have made their billions from their respective business empires and professions, turning philanthropists. As pointed out by someone, their “secret to living is giving.” Leading the pack according to one of the many lists found on various platforms is none other than the Microsoft founder Bill Gates estimated to be worth $ 94 billion who has given away $50 billion to various non profits over the years. It is his way of giving back a large portion of his wealth. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation founded in 2000 has “provided everything from providing educational resources in Chicago to health care support in Nigeria.” According to the Foundation’s official website, “Our work in India began more than a decade ago with an HIV prevention initiative. Since then, our health efforts in the country have expanded to include maternal and child health, nutrition, vaccines and routine immunization, family planning, and control of selected infectious diseases.”

Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, believed to be worth $84 billion has given away $46 billion to charity since 2000. Interestingly, Buffett and Gates created what is known as ‘The Giving Pledge’ when 40 of America’s wealthiest individuals and couples joined together in August 2010 and committed to give away more than half of their wealth. As on May 2019 there are 204 ‘pledgers’ from 23 countries in this group. Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro is the fourth in the Wealth- X list of the richest was the first Indian to sign up The Giving Pledge. Besides Premji, other major Indian givers in 2013include HCL’s founder and chairman Shiv Nadar, the founder chairman of GMR Group, G M Rao, Ronnie Screwvala of UTV Group, Nandan and Rohini Nilekani, CMD of BIOCON Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Ratan Tata, VEDANTA’s Anil Agarwal and PNC Menon of Sobha Developers.[ source the Economic Times and China based Hurun Report]

Incidentally, among some of the top givers in one of the lists feature African- American celebrity billionaires like celebrated media star Oprah Winfrey, NBA superstar Michael Jordan and many times world tennis champion Serena Williams.

Among our film personalities Nana Patekar who lives with his mother in a one BHK apartment donated almost 90% of his earnings to charity! Amitabh Bachchan donated Rs. 2 crore to farmers and widows of martyrs of our defense services. Big B is also the face of the ‘Save Our Tigers campaign and has been the UNICEF goodwill ambassador for Polio Eradication Campaign. Other Bollywood stars deeply involved in giving their money and time for various humanitarian concerns include Rahul Bose, Nafiza Ali. Shah Rukh Khan, Diya Mirza, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Nandita Das, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Shabana Azmi and Gul Panang.[sourced from lifebeyondnumbers.com]. From among Indian cricketers Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, M S Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar stand out in making thousands of lives better off- field according to ‘Better India’.

Coming down to terra firma and to very ordinary people most people consider it their duty doing small acts of charity. Charity is defined as “a system of giving money, food, or help free to those who are in need because they are ill, poor or have no home, or any organization that has the purpose of providing money or helping in this way”. [Cambridge dictionary] If we consider the first part of this definition “giving money, food…… because they are ill, poor or have no home…” seems to sound a sympathetic approach of those who have pity on the poor. On the other hand if we apply the concept of empathy [often defined as “the ability to put yourselves in the place of another and understand someone else’s feelings by identifying with them” ] it appears to be treating the beneficiaries of charity with dignity and not as objects of pity.

There is hardly anyone in the world who has not given their money or time in small or large measures as a matter of routine at least at some point of time in their life. But why do people give? With a social activist friend one tried to enumerate some of the reasons for people to show their generosity of giving. The reasons include concern for fellow beings, sympathy, empathy, believes /faith, power, religious/political proclivity, for inexplicable joy of giving etc.

Giving in charity or what we in India call “Daan” is one of the major reasons for giving. All major faiths in the world have espoused giving. In Hinduism giving or ‘Daan’ is an important part of one’s Dharma or religious duty. This duty is not just confined to one’s family but also towards friends, relations, neighbors, and to even strangers. The ancient Jews were bound by their law to give one tenth of their earnings or tithe for religious purposes. As early Christians were essentially Jewish this tradition continued but the New Testament urged the faithful to give generously. All the services provided by the Christian community in the fields of healing, education etc are considered to be the duty of the faithful and they have to be voluntary. In Islam, it is considered obligatory to give ‘’Zakat’’, a form of alms giving is considered next to prayers in importance. By giving ‘Kar Seva’ or roughly ‘Shram Daan’ the Sikh faithful serve others by providing service in their Gurudwaras including preparing food for the Langar . Incidentally Langar is “the community kitchen in a Gurudwara where free meal is served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. The free meal is always vegetarian”.

A lot of people today give for publicity and self promotion. Bhagavad Gita points at “Nishkama Karma” or selfless or desire-less action. The act of giving therefore should be without expectation of anything in return. The Bible says “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Both these urge the faithful to eschew publicity which is not exactly in tune with the moral temperatures of our times!