In most parts of India where you have god fearing, law breaking, tax stealing citizens ( hey we covered the whole of India that is Bharat) we have a concept call Jagaran. Now a Jagaran is a very Indian concept a family or neighborhood will organize a whole night program where some very lousy singer will sing devotional songs on the tune of latest Bollywood songs.
Now in the Jagaran the lead screamer (that is what the singer does) would be sitting in front of god and goddesses and there will be some money lying in front of him. Every once in a while a well fed, bulging from the seems auntyjee will get up and put a 10 Rs currency note in front of singer, touch the portrait of god and goddess with hands and say something in the ears of the singer.
The singer will in his hoarse voice make an announcement:
There is a 10 Rs donation from Simi, Vimmi and bunty kee mummyjee for mata kee artee. Soon another even better fed and even more bulging from the seems auntyjee will get up and put a 20 Rs note in front of the singer and announcement will be repeated. These 20 Rs are from- Hunny, Bunny and Sunny’s mother Mrs. Sweety for Mata kee artee. This cycle will be repeated many times in the night as soon contest will begin between well fed, bulging from the seams auntyjees and, pan chewing, gold rings wearing unclejees as to who can give more money in the name of Mata.
Now the same Auntyjee and Unclejee who will open their purse strings to the silly singer singing on the tunes of Bollywood song will never give a single penny for any kind of social cause like education for the girl child, fighting HIV or any other malaise that plagues our society.
While thinking about this blog I was wondering what is it that prompts us Indians to loosen our purse strings.
One thing is very clear we are more open to give money to religious causes than to anything else. If you look at any of the Indian city and visit any religious place you will find that they have chairs, benches, water cooler and even fans having names of some lala jee or his wife or progeny who have donated the said item. (Names on bench etc I can understand but on fan which while running no body can read? May be they should write the name also on the regulator of the fan )
Any way the 2 basic lessons learned from the Jagaran and religious place example are:
1. We are more inclinded to give money to religious cause to make our life after death less painful and avoid hell as much as possible.
2. We love to see our names being announced on loud speaker or inscribed on a bench in a temple so that the whole world can come and read that we have donated a bench worth 300 rs and this should condone the fact that we cheated on our taxes worth 30000/ rs. God is great.
3. But what is surprising is total apathy on part of Indians to contribute to nation building activities that can change the life of a lot of people simple things like helping earthquake or flood victims or supporting the education for girl child or even paying your taxes honestly.
Since for any body the budget for any kind of giving/donating is limited we are clearly competing for the money that goes for religious causes.
Since earlier days Indians are ok to donate for religious purpose and give money for temples, etc.
The first effort by any individual to try to change the same was by Rippan Kapur when he started CRY. Rippan’s target donors were professionals who wanted to do some thing but did not know what to do. I must say CRY has done a commendable job in mobilizing funds from the educated working professionals.
Similarly GiveIndia.org is also an aggregator of repute and transferring the funds to various NGOs after a proper due diligence so that the money reaches the needy.
The problem I find with this approach is that we have made donating for what I call nation building causes is that we have made it an elite, tech savvy affair because they are mainly targeting well heeled professionals. Who have the money to spare but not the time or the inclination to go out and dirty their hands ( one of them being yours truly). And one of the biggest reasons people like me donate is that they like the idea of saving taxes while helping some poor malnourished kid in a remote Orrissa village, once we think of the smile on this kids face on receiving his mid day meals makes the chocolate cake that one is enjoying less fattening and less sinful (and well deserved:) )
Mind you no where I am saying that organizations like Give India should stop collection from the upwardly mobile professionals. I only want them to come up with a program where the Unclejees and Auntyjees who are putting 500/- notes in the boxes in temples also start giving some money to other worthy causes. It will need a concentrated marketing effort to change the mindset so that they consider it worthwhile to donate to places other than of religious significance.
Now ideally one would like to begin with recruiting some of the religious bodies itself in the program but the prudes will not like to be associated with any kind of religious body for the fear of being branded as a rabid fanatic.
Another big hurdle in converting well fed auntyjees to giving for right cause is that most of the money that is being donated to temples etc is unaccounted for black money being given in cash while the organizations like Give India are targeting people with white income surplus to donate online.
This is where the challenge lies the person who loves to donate cash is not looking for tax benefit for he is a tax thief and has not paid his taxes so he does not cares about your tax benefit of 50% tax exemption as he has already got 100% tax exemption by not paying his taxes on his income either by underreporting or by not reporting at all. It seems to be a battle not worth fighting for, so it seems my optimism for converting religious donations into worthy causes is a long shot at least for now. May the organizations like Give India are right in targeting the people who want to put their surplus funds to a worthy cause like fighting the spread of HIV virus.
I think our focus should be on the government and its tax policies. We should lobby with the government that it should recognize that the donations to organizations like Give India at par with investment in infrastructure and a key contributor to nation building, specially fields like education of the girl child (teach a male child change a family, teach a girl child and you change 2 families), widow empowerment, rural self help groups for micro finance etc. Also some of the microfinance organizations like Rang De, which give micro loans to would be entrepreneurs in rural areas should be given same tax benefits that you get for donations or investing in an infrastructure mutual fund, and you can have same amount of lock in period so that the beneficiaries have enough time to establish their business before they start repaying the debt.
Here are some of my suggestions that I have for people who want to support such organizations online:
1. Add the link to your favorite charity etc to your email signature.
2. Add the link to your blog, linkedin, face book, orkut etc profile.
3. Wear the T shirts that you got for your donations to the mall, let you be a walking advertisement for the cause your support.
4. Next time some body comes to your home to Collect Money for a Jagaran tell them proudly that you support two little girls in Bastar for their education.
5. Ask your companies finance department to give option to employees to get a small sum monthly deducted to be given to a charity.
6. Volunteer to work in a remote village with some people to whom you have donated in past instead of going on your next resort holiday. Or if you still want to go to the resort go to one that employs locals rather than brining in French chefs.
7. Don’t’ worry that god will be angry with you because instead of giving money to temple you are giving to charity. God lives in each one of us including the little girl who has started going to school because you donated money equal to a movie trip with family on a weekend. Do go to my Give india page and PLEASE DONATE.
Thanks for reading, do share your comments