Religious charity

When I was in Mathigiri, one political leader asked why not I collect money from my shishyas and do some kind of social service to the poor and needy in that area.  For this I said, ‘poor and needy are everywhere.  So I encourage my shishyas to do their best personally in their own locality.  By this we can localize the charity and need not spend time, money and energy in organizing it, which again drains lot of funds which could reach the poor and needy.  For me even this Organized Social service is also a concept we Indians inherited from the Western tradition and influence@.  Traditionally in Indian society—all kinds of philanthropic work is done by individuals and families unorganized.  Of course lands were granted to the temple, but they are not for philanthropic work but as brahmadeya—for the maintenance of the temple and needs of the priests.  Of course ‘anna dhana’ is done in the temple, but this is not charity. Nara yajna is part of everyday sacrifice in which the need of others is taken care of.  This does not mean I am opposing any such Organized Social Service. I appreciate every kind of social work done by NGOs and others, yet I have some personal reservation about it.   Who won’t bow before Mother Theresa and the seva she has done and still carried on by Missionaries of Charity?

But, as I have already shared in the article ‘dhana and charity’, ‘throwing a bone to the dog is not charity, but sharing  the same bone when you are as hungry as the dog’.   This does not mean that all those who do some kind of charity should distribute all their wealth and become poor to serve among the needy.  I never promote such kind of socialism—which aims to make poverty equally distributed.  But using social service as a means to make a living needs to be seriously questioned.   And when it is done in the name of religion or god, then for me it becomes even a crime.  Every kind of charity should be done based on humanitarian consideration.  Keeping any other motive behind it is nothing but exploiting the poor and need to quench one’s religious urge or sentiment in the name of god.  And for me, any god or religion which encourages its devotee and followers to do charity because of their bhakti/religion, needs to be questioned.  I don’t think that  god or religion is promoting this kind of charity.  Any charity done,  explicitly or implicitly ‘either to the convert or to convert’ is a crime.  Some people say that they want to do charity as a witness to their faith.  But I cannot understand such a faith—which require my charity as a witness to god?

I know several Hindus are doing wonderful charity work, but I don’t hear or remember having seen that they are doing it as a witness to their particular deity or because of their bhakti.  Of course some charity is done either to earn merit or to get rid of sin.  But such charity is limited to individuals and it comes under the preview of dana.  But when charity is done on a larger scale, the motive behind it is pure humanitarian consideration.  This is part of ‘manushya dharma’—duty as a human being.  In such charity less energy and resources are spent in organizational requirement and administrative need.  Except large scale charity work, most of such charity done based ‘manushya dharma’ is localized and remains unorganized.  But when any charity is done in the name of faith/religion, then in  mobilizing the fund, channelizing them major part of resource and energy spent on organization and administration.  And most of the time, sorry to say this—such ‘organized’ charity is done to cater to the personal satisfaction and religious urge of some than keeping the need of the needy in mind.

I know this is a controversial subject.  I need to think more on this subject.  I am willing to change my view, if others could convince me—particularly those who do charity in the name of religion?

Dayanand Bharati.

Gurukulam, October 25, 2012

@ But in her excellent paper on ‘All gifting is sacred’: The Sanatana

Dharma sabha movement, the reform of dana and civil society in late colonial India’ by Malavika Kasturi (Department of History, University of Toronto) [The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/001946460904700104, Indian Economic Social History Review 2010 47: 107] points out:

In the colonial period, which witnessed an explosion in socio-religious forms of gifting, dana acquired new forms and political meanings. Donors perceived dana as a significant political and cultural field, replete with opportunities in troubled times. A number of elites, the main patrons of the exploding field of donations, asserted their moral authority and symbolic capital through flamboyant acts of public devotionalism, even as their power and position ebbed and flowed. (p.112)

Colonial laws on gifting aimed to transform the direction, forms and meanings of giving. Between 1780 and 1840, the colonial state had evolved a paradigm privileging state–sponsored charity based on the ideas of public utility, rationality and good works for the public good.34 This shift in colonial attitudes delegitimised indigenous gifting as wasteful in order to propagate the Company as ‘the effective and final source of benevolence and philanthropy’ in its territories.35 The new meanings given to dana were formalised by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Acts passed between 1863 and 1920.36(p.116)

34 S Sharma, S. Famine, Philanthropy and the State, North India in the Early Nineteenth Century, Delhi, 2001. p. 173–6.

35 Ibid., p. 136.

36Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, Koslowski, Muslim Endowments; Sharma, Famine and Philanthropy, p. 192; Birla, Stages of Capital, pp. 65–139.