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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Social justice isn’t about charity

The privileged must invest in the marginalised as part of their responsibility to society. Philanthropy is welcome, but that will never be enough to address poverty

Written by Fauzan Alavi |
Updated: July 10, 2021 9:25:25 am
social justice in indiaFailing to invest in less privileged communities results in areas and regions remaining backward, low business activity, and extremely low levels of employment.

In Lucknow, a few days ago, Prakash, a cab driver, told me that he is struggling to pay his children monthly school fees of Rs 3,500. His remark made me think of the things I take for granted. Some of us are privileged — either self-made or born into fortune — but unfortunately, a majority struggle for the basics the world over, and our country is no exception.

David Rockefeller Jr once said that his grandfather would remind him that every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity is an obligation and every possession comes with a duty. In the US, where almost $ 500 billion is spent in philanthropy, a section of people still struggle for basic needs. Philanthropy is no doubt commendable but we must not overlook the economic injustice that makes philanthropy so necessary? Most of us do fight the immediate problem – that is absolutely necessary — but leave the root cause for another day.

Failing to invest in less privileged communities results in areas and regions remaining backward, low business activity, and extremely low levels of employment. Such underdevelopment also results in the migration from rural to urban areas – this is something we could have arrested. Much effort is required today in developing communities around us and we need to take ownership of success and failures.

Failures because at times we do not see the value of other perspectives. Many of the privileged feel they are the best suited to solve every problem – it’s here that we go wrong. We should be open to anyone who brings wisdom to the table irrespective of their position in society. It’s an endeavour in which empathy holds the key to a long-term solution.

While the privileged will have to help the less fortunate, people will enjoy human rights to their fullest when duties aren’t neglected. As the Bible says, “Whatever we did for the least of these brothers and sisters, we did unto Him”. Let charity be beyond a band-aid. Charity might also heal but the question of how one landed up in the hospital remains.

We Indians need to ask some basic questions on the subject of social justice and economic freedom. Seventy years after Independence, we perform poorly on several social indicators. Yet, we criticise Aayushman Bharat, Jan Dhan and many other direct benefit schemes. Such schemes have not only stopped the corruption by the middleman but also restored the self-esteem of the poor. As responsible citizens, we help everyone we know who is eligible for Aayushman Bharat enrolled in the scheme and explain the scheme’s benefits to them.

A welfare state keeps a record of every citizen, not to control but to ensure a fair and just distribution of subsidies and grants. But there is resistance on that front too and the poor get carried away not realising that eventually, it is they who lose out. Covid-19 has made stark the disparities in our society; it has also thrown light on the privileges of few. Criticise the government, we must. But surely a bit of introspection will also help.

Who was responsible for making the working class destitute during the pandemic? Why did employers sack them and leave them literally on the road? Is the government accountable for this? Surely the government cannot monitor our value systems

Prominent amongst the UN’s 17 Sustainable development goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is the one pertaining to providing more than 20 million plus families piped clean drinking water. Drinking water is the biggest carrier of water-borne diseases. We are understandably impatient to see the results of government schemes in this respect. But the size of the country and the number of people does complicate matters. At times, it’s human nature to resist change.

The Ministry of Minority Welfare has a lot to offer but once again it’s for society to drive welfare down to the deserving and needy. The new generation has a lot of aspirations and we would do well to provide them a platform.

There are many vested interests when it comes to securing the social and economic but as a society this is our most important fight. Giving is not just about money, equally or more important it is about devoting time, imparting skills and providing experience — that should be my job, our job. Gandhi ji had said, “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest whom we have seen and ask yourself if the steps you are contemplating are going to be of any use to them. Will they gain, will it restore them to a control over their lives and destiny. Will it lead to freedom for the hungry and starving millions?”

Let that credo guide our actions.

The writer is a director of Allanasons Ltd

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