A little insight

I am an avid thinker. I try and make a difference in the lives of people around me. I make people laugh. My blogs might seem more on the serious side but don't let it fool you into thinking that I am a serious person. I am known more for my quick wit and ability to tickle ribs. I am also very passionate about parenting.
Anyway, as you read along, try and comment. It might just encourage me...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why don't Indians give back to society?

This author has echoed a lot of thoughts that I have been wrestling with for a long time now. Please do read till the end and very carefully with an open mind. The question asked in the beginning had the hit-me-in-the-face kind of effect when I read all the way till the end and read the answer!


Why Indians don’t give back to society

By Aakar Patel, Mint, July 4, 2009

Some characteristics unite Indians.
The most visible is our opportunism

Why don’t we worship Brahma? We know he’s part of the Hindu trinity as the creator, but we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Shiva, its eventual destroyer. The answer lies not in religion, but in culture. But in what way does our religion shape our culture?

Weber explained the success of capitalism in the US, Germany and Britain as coming from their populations’ Protestant faith. This ethic, or culture, was missing from the Catholic populations of South America, Italy and Spain. Protestants, Weber said, extended Christianity’s message of doing good deeds, to doing work well. Industry and enterprise had an ultimate motive: public good. That explains the philanthropists of the US, from John D. Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates.

What explains the behaviour of Indians? What explains the anarchy of our cities? To find out, we must ask how our behaviour is different.

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

The Indian’s instinct is to jump the traffic light if he is convinced that the signal is not policed. If he gets flagged down by the police, his instinct is to bolt. In an accident, his instinct is to flee. Fatal motoring cases in India are a grim record of how the driver ran over people and drove away.

We show the pattern of what is called a Hobbesian society: one in which there is low trust between people. This instinct of me-versus-the- world leads to irrational behaviour, demonstrated when Indians board flights. We form a mob at the entrance, and as the flight is announced, scramble for the plane even though all tickets are numbered. Airlines modify their boarding announcements for Indians taking international flights.

Our opportunism necessarily means that we do not understand collective good. Indians will litter if they are not policed. Someone else will always pick up the rubbish we throw. Thailand’s toilets are used by as many people as India’s toilets are, but they are likely to be not just clean but spotless. This is because that’s how the users leave them, not the cleaners.

The Indian’s reluctance to embrace collective good hurts his state. A study of income-tax compliance between 1965 and 1993 in India (Elsevier Science/Das- Gupta, Lahiri and Mookherjee) concluded that “declining assessment intensity had a significant negative effect” on compliance, while “traditional enforcement tools (searches, penalties and prosecution activity) had only a limited effect” on Indians. The authors puzzled over the fact that “India’s income tax performance (was) below the average of countries with similar GDP per capita”.

We do not think stealing from the state is a bad thing, and our ambiguity extends to corruption, which also we do not view in absolute terms. Political parties in India understand this and corruption is not an issue in Indian politics. Politicians who are demonstrably corrupt, recorded on camera taking a bribe or saying appalling things, or convicted by a court, can hold legitimate hope of a comeback—unthinkable in the West.
The opportunist is necessarily good at adapting, and that explains the success of Indians abroad. We can follow someone else’s rules well, even if we can’t enforce them at home ourselves. The Indian in the US is peerless at the Spelling Bee because the formula of committing things to memory, which in India passes for knowledge, comes naturally to him. But this talent for adapting and memorizing is not the same as a talent for creation.

The question is: Why are we opportunists?

In his great work Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti observed that the rewards religions promised their faithful were all far off, in the afterlife. This is because a short goal would demand demonstration from god and create skeptics instead of believers. There is an exception to this in Hinduism. Hinduism is not about the other world. There is no afterlife in Hinduism and rebirth is always on earth. The goal is to be released entirely and our death rites and beliefs -- funeral in Kashi -- seek freedom from rebirth.

Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to earth, because it’s a rotten place. Naipaul opens his finest novel with the words “The world is what it is”, and Wittgenstein ( “The world is all that is the case”) opens his Tractatus similarly.

Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is. Perhaps this is where the Hindu gets his world view -- which is zero-sum -- from. We might say that he takes the pessimistic view of society and of his fellow man. But why?

The Hindu devotee’s relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. God must be petitioned and placated to swing the universe’s blessings towards you. God gives you something not through the miracle, and this is what makes Hinduism different, but by swinging that something away from someone else. This is the primary lesson of the Vedic fire sacrifice. There is no benefit to one without loss to another. Religion is about bending god’s influence towards you through pleas, and appeasement, through offerings.

Society has no role in your advancement and there is no reason to give back to it (in any way, including leaving the toilets clean behind you) because it hasn’t given you anything in the first place. That is why Indian industrialists are not philanthropists. Rockefeller always gave a tenth of his earnings to the Church, and then donated hundreds of millions, fighting hookworm and educating black women. Bill Gates gave $25 billion (around Rs1.2 trillion), and his cause is fighting malaria, which does not even affect Americans. Warren Buffett gave away $30 billion, almost his entire fortune. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries. Dhirubhai Ambani International School has annual fees starting at Rs47,500 (with a Rs 24,000 admission fee) and Mukesh Ambani’s daughter was made head girl.

An interesting thing to know is this: Has our culture shaped our faith or has our faith shaped our culture? I cannot say. To return to the question we started with: Why is Brahma not worshipped? The answer is obvious: He has nothing to offer us. What he could do for us, create the universe, he already has. There is no gain in petitioning him now.

We Indians have to look inward. I have read a lot of mails in this regard which asks us to look inward and treat the world around us with care, not careless abandon! Like I tell my husband, we, each one of us, have to change ourselves from within for the collective good. We cannot always standby and blame the guy before us for littering. The general tendency is to think : This place is already dirty. My wrapper cannot do anymore harm. Or, why should I raise my voice against this injustice? See the crowd. They are not saying anything. Let us stick with the popular notion on this. Guys, every time we are faced with corruption or littering or the general welfare of the world around us, let us raise our voice, even if it is feeble. Somebody else might take courage too and soon, it will be a shout loud enough to be heard and reckoned with!

Disclaimer: This post is in no way intended to hurt religious sentiments and does not intend to target any community in particular either.


Swaram said...

Well Bins, I abs agree with whatever u have put down here! Like hw we tend to follow suit when it comes to litter around places, keep quiet when u have to actually oppose and so on!

each one of us, have to change ourselves from within for the collective good. - Brilliant! Thatz what it is! It may not help in keeping the whole place clean just because I don't litter but atleast there's that much lesser contribution to the filth!

About the article, I agree to it only in bits and pieces! Our country has people of all religions and I don't think its those from one religion only who go about doing these things!

And also, nt too sure if his inference about worship of Lord Brahma does make sense! I mean there are mythological stories about the same and may be it has just come down from one generation to another and so on!

And ya, one eg.. of Dhirubhai Ambani school cannot be taken here! There are many many Hindus too who take part in lot of social services!
Sudha Murthy does a lot of good work in this field and there are many others! With a country with such a big population, one Mr.Ambani does not represent all of us isn't it?

No offense meant, none taken :) Just mean to say citing one example and generalizing things is not the right way!

Butterfly said...

Swaram: No. I will not take offence. Bcos this article was not written by me. I did not think I could edit the article so I left the Ambani thing as it is. Yes there are a lot of Indians doing Good. But the number of people not doing good, outnumber that statistic by a huge margin and we all know it. I guess this article basically just urges each and everyone of us to realise what we are doing and begin making amends.

Swaram said...

Begin making amends - u r so rt! Its high time already :(

Shades of Grey said...

I enjoyed this article. Many things made sense, though I do not agree that any particular religion has such a great influence on Western culture. They merely had a head start because they had guns in lawless times, and we're a little slow in catching up with their progress. I believe if every human being became a little more spiritual, no matter what his religion is, he would do good for his society. Not all Christians give back to society, and there are many non-Christians who do. Tithes are a compulsion, a requisite of the faith and is intended only for the use of the church - no Protestant church does any amount of social work that is even remotely close to the Catholic input. I do not say this because I am Catholic, just stating the facts. :O)
Offerings are another thing altogether and Christ has said that we should not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. And if Ambani's daughter is head girl, that is his privilege - in time she too will realize the reason why - what is his hard for if he cannot give his children such privileges and how does her position affect us in any way?

There is NO lack of money in this country. But it is not right to look to the rich to provide - they might not be revealing their works of charity, we don't know. But I agree with you that every individual HAS to do his part - this is the most difficult when we come across those who only take but never give in return.

Sraboney said...

I have always wondered why Indians don't give back to society and yes, for the greater good each one of us has to do his or her bit...The 'ki pharak panda' attitude needs to change...

indianhomemaker said...

Butterfly I agree that we Indians are extremely selfish and also short sighted - the way we prefer sons to daughters, shows the same thing. We even love our children - our own flesh and blood with the thought of future gains - dowry- Daughter, care in old age -Son... :(

But I also feel this is because we are extremely poor, and then there are so many of us, and we have a government that does less for us than the NGOs do!

Can religion make us better people? It can I think. But rarely does... most of us, in all religions, find convenient interpretations - so I trust law to make a difference because it is accountable and can be objectively argued with unlike religion. Moralising and human good will... I will generally trust in no part of the world.

Delhi has improved a lot because now they have better administration, and some of our smaller cities have garbage rotting by the roadside and no traffic lights because the Municipal corporation there can get away with doing nothing.

I feel religion matters but not much, except perhaps it has already set our attitudes in a chalta hai mould.

Very interesting and thought provoking post.


Excellent article! I was impressed how the author took time to provide such poignant examples of daily, contemporary life. This is in true spirit of Diawali, where we should clear out the old and bring in the new, win over our personal evils. Isn't that the actual significance of this festival? It's not about religion, but about the falsified fervor we Indians harp on about our country. We think we know everything or can adapt anywhere in any situation. But when it gets down to practicing simple social graces in our own country, we fail miserably for the lack of even trying.
Again, excellent choice of articles....shame it won't affect those who really need to understand it.

Agnes said...

Wow, interesting! I am not sure I 100% agree but very interesting. The density of people is very high in India.

Solilo said...

Hmm...let me think.

I would just say this is generalization. On giving back, I have often seen the criticism for rich and famous. Giving back can be done by middle class too though mostly we hear the excuse that they are trying to make their ends meet. But giving back needn't be in terms of money and it needn't be big amount of money either.

Dhirubhai came up hard and smart way. Today his children and grandchildren are enjoying the fruits of his hard work. While I don't agree with nepotism still we can't avoid it completely. In their school, there is bound to be some partiality. Still people choose to go there because they like that status and want to be associated with the school (SRK's and Tendulkar's kids also study there).

It is easy for all of us to preach on giving back to the society but first step is for us to do it and set an example for few others who might get inspired or influenced.

ash's corner said...

Bindu, I totally agree with the littering part. In the places abroad there are dustbins placed at every corner. Here in India, I feel that the government should provide more dustbins and make the rules more strict so that people adhere to them.

We in our way can help by making use of them and teaching our children.

Yes, there are a lot of people in India doing good who really do not go gaga over what they do but the fact remains that they are very few in number.

I would love to make amends in my life and I am sure the others would too. Let us begin.

Lakshmi said...

Interesting post Bindu.

Indians do give back eventhough it is not always structured and monetary as in western cultures. In our society, growing up we face lot of obstacles to even barely survive which kind of makes us opportunists.

And it all is part of upbringing too. Parents or other grownups are models for children. And if all they see is littering, how will they know it is wrong.

I do not think that rich people must be held accountabale for donating/non donating. Everyone can make a difference, whether a billionaire or a mediocre and it will have an impact.

Reflections said...

Hey...loved the article tho I wdnt agree on all the points the writer mentioned.
Its true enough isnt it most of us Indians are opportunists...
He needs just a small opening & is quick to grab it which u have to agree results in improvements in his life but on the other hand this same quality has made him very selfish....concern for the fellow human being is quite low on his list of priorities.
Seriously, its such a joke to see passengers 'gently' shoving eachother to get into line even b4 the plane has landed. And most traffic accidents are the result of the driver wanting to clear the signal before the red light comes on....he is always in a big hurry, always;-S

I'm not going to delve into the religious angle but a simple thing like common courtesy is almost nil. Most schools cram our heads with information but very few bother to teach us VALUES.

Sure life is a struggle...but shoving another out of the way to clear ur way is not the answer....its not abt what the rich, poor or the middle-class can contribute, its about ...the realisation that each of us CAN make a difference to our surroundings has to dawn.
But after saying all this I feel that the todays generation are a lot more aware.....they read a lot, the media & internet gives them a lot of information which is related not just to studies....even then its going to take atleast 3-4 decades to feel the difference....I mean havent u heard of the crab story....even if there is one good guy there are 10 bad guys to undermine what he does & pull him down;-/

colours said...

As reflections says, I believe the current generation is giving back - perhaps because this is a generation which has also had more resources and opportunities to give back. I am impressed by the number of Indian NGOs that are springing up and the number of my friends back in India and outside India who are trying to help in some small way.

Thank god we have the ability and we are using this ability.

Agnes said...

Why did one of the commenters call you "Bindu"? 'Bins' is short for "Bindu"??

Butterfly said...

@ Agnes: Yes. Bins stands for Bindu. But pls stick to Bins, ok? I hope the others read this too. :D

umsreflections said...

Gud one, Bins !!!!

Yeah, I've wondered so many times, why we dont worship Brahma, while we worship his wife, Saraswathi !!!

Even though my opinions contradict with the views about Hinduism in the article, I am not delving into it, now.

The most important thing that we should start doing as Indians, or as human beings, is to be gud and considerate both in mind and in action. Let us start amending in small ways - let us be the change, we want to see !!!!

Reflections said...

Yeah Agnes stick to Bins...atleast it sounds better than Butterfly;-P

Reflections said...

Ooops I almost forgot...actually came here to ask u why u havent posted yet???

amy said...

I just saw this article while googling for something :-)

well... i agree with the basic pt! but to blame a religion for it is outrageous! it s like blaming islam for the terrorism.. the brits were not exactly acting as xians when they made us a colony and exploited it!! so, somehow.. whoever wrote it ..i would say i really cannot c any reason..

yet again, i hope the publishing of the article here is to bring forth the importance of giving and for upping our civic sense!