Charity Inc.

karnadaan

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET,  Feb. 01, 2013

We are a large company that has a decent CSR program. At tough times like these I am trying to save jobs in my company and we really feel we shouldn’t waste time and resources for such stuff. But for our image’s sake, some of my senior team members feel we should keep up the CSR program because it makes us look good and also does some good work in villages where our plants are situated. I would rather do good for people who have worked for the company. How do I balance the two?

The idea of charity in India is very different from the idea that we have imported from European and American universities. In the West, charity is done to save others from misery and suffering. In India, the yajaman does charity to uplift himself by uplifting others. Thus in the West, it is a linear act of sympathy and pity for the less privileged, indulging in that which makes you feel good about yourself. In India, it is an act that is essentially a cyclical act that benefits us as we benefit the world.

Thus charity is classified as dakshina, bhiksha and daan. Dakshina is wealth given in exchange for services and value. Bhiksha is wealth given in exchange for power and status. Daan is wealth given in exchange for wisdom. What is your CSR?

From what I hear it is a burden you have to bear to keep up a good image. It is essentially bhiksha. And now the burden is becoming unbearable because your business is not as successful as it was before. And you are looking for a way out without feeling terrible about it. You are arguing that you would rather give dakshina to your employees than bhiksha to the villages around your industrial plant. Clearly your CSR is not daan. It does not give you any wisdom.

You have to ask yourself fundamental questions. Why do you generate wealth? For whom do you generate wealth? How does your organization affect the ecosystem it inhabits? Do only your employees who grant you service and value matter? Do the villages in whose vicinity your wealth is being generated matter at all? Is charity to be indulged in only good times? Must the beneficiaries of charity also suffer when your organization is making a loss? There are no ‘correct’ answers.

Nobody is obliged to do charity. To do charity under pressure is terrible. And it is worse if charity makes the recipient dependent on it. If you stop doing charity, you may lose face, and the villagers may suffer, but eventually they will find a way to survive. You, like the rest of us, are not indispensable. You have to introspect your motives for doing, or not doing, charity. If you do not have a generous heart, stay away from charity.