B S Raghavan

Paradox of Indian philanthropy

B. S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on May 07, 2013

Wipro Chairman Azim Premji… The joy of giving.

TheKnowledge@ Wharton (K@W) Web site of March 21 gives an incisive as well as revealing account of the state of philanthropy in India. It is well worth visiting by every netizen and member of India Inc.

No culture and no corpus of literature is so replete with exaltation of, or exhortations for, charity and sacrifice as India’s. Even today, Indians pour out crores of rupees to temples and mutts and establishments run by godmen.

In February 2011 alone, the Tirupathi temple received a total of 1,175 kg of gold (worth $64 million), not including the three kg of gold donated some time ago by business baron Vijay Mallya on his 57th birthday.

Contrariwise, no country ranks so low in giving and sharing what one has to improve the people’s quality of life, promote social good and alleviate human suffering.

Just as in the case of human development, competitiveness, ease of doing business, integrity in public life and the like, in the World Giving Index too, India is way down as a poor 133 among 150 countries, even lower than Bangladesh (109) and Nepal (115).

The Bain Company brings out every year a report on the state of Indian philanthropy, for which it surveys 180 high-net-worth individuals across four major cities and leaders of more than 40 non-government organisations (NGOs), besides conducting detailed interviews with social activists, funding agencies and charitable trusts and foundations.

Its finding is heart-rending: Private charity contributions as a percentage of GDP are only 0.4 per cent in India, compared with 1.3 in the UK and 2.2 in the US.

Still more heart-rending is the fact that India Inc is fighting tooth and nail the provision in the amended Companies Law Bill requiring companies to spend a minimum of two per cent of their profits on activities beneficial to society and the people at large.


Spokespersons of India Inc are indulging in all kinds of casuistry, questioning the right of the Government to impose any such target, castigating it as the Government’s ruse to download on the corporates what essentially ought to be its own responsibility and raising the bogey of its spawning a new kind of ‘inspector raj’ to verify the amounts spent.

No wonder, then, that when Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, recently visited India with an appeal to wealthy Indians either to join the world philanthropic movement, ‘Giving Pledge’, launched by them or to start something similar in India, to give back to society a significant part of their earnings and accumulated wealth, ‘they were met with smiles, but with little support’, according to the K@W write-up!

In fact, only 70 middle and higher middle rankers in corporates attended the meeting called by the duo and only one, Azim Premji, among the big shots of Indian industry offered to sign up, making good his pledge by transferring 12.5 per cent of his holding in Wipro — worth $2.2 billion — to a public charitable trust named after him.

The only other Indian to come forward was P. N. C. Menon, founder of the Sobha group, a Dubai-based conglomerate, who has pledged 50 per cent of his wealth of $600 million.

So far, these are the only two Indians among the100 individuals round the world (which has 1,426 billionaires as per the latest count by Forbes) who have joined the Giving Pledge initiative of Gates and Buffet. All honour to Premji who is the first and only billionaire among the 55 others in India to have enlisted himself as a supporter. The rest have not even made appropriate noises welcoming the move.


What explains this painful paradox of Indians being so very godly in one respect and so very stingy when it comes to a question of bringing succour to the needy and funding worthwhile social causes? Why don’t they realise that giving and sharing is an important element of godliness as well? Why is it examples such as the one set by Mother Teresa, with her famous call, “Give until it hurts”, are yet to make a perceptible impact on the psyche of well-to-do Indians?

One intriguing topic of research in this field could be whether the consumerist, mall-hopping culture which has made self-indulgence the be-all and end-all of existence is making people deadened to the joy of giving and sharing and prone to a grab-as-grab-can life style.

Published on May 07, 2013

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