Pleasure of giving

One important message that the world’s third richest man, Warren Buffett, has given to India is that its rich people should contribute more for the welfare of the poor and the needy. The number of millionaires in India is rising every year. But the absolute numbers of abjectly poor and needy people are also increasing. The widening gulf between the rich and the poor cannot be bridged by charity. But there is a strong case for India’s rich people to loosen their purse strings for the benefit of the society and to help the less privileged brethren.

It may seem a contradiction that a man as wealthy as Warren Buffett loves his riches less than many less rich persons do. The legendary chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has pledged most of his fortunes to charity, most of it to the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation which is doing significant work in improving health and educational facilities for the poorest people all over the world. He has also contributed billions of dollars to trusts created by his family, which are engaged in social and philanthropic work. Buffett, Bill Gates and a number of other billionaires in western countries have stood out for their charitable instincts and work. They are part of a longstanding tradition in these countries which encourages charity and philanthropy.

Unfortunately this tradition is weak in India and needs to be strengthened. We often disparage western culture as individualistic, acquisitive and materialistic and claim that our culture places society above the individual and sets high store by altruism, sacrifice and giving. Negation of the self and renunciation are virtues emphasised and extolled by our philosophical tradition. But they are rarely followed in practice. While 2.2 per cent of the US GDP goes for charity, the figure is about 0.5 per cent in India. Companies which are flush with funds do not take their corporate responsibility seriously. Recently leaders of companies like Wipro, HCL and the GMR group and the Infosys Foundation have made notable gestures of philanthropic value. Old business houses like the Tatas have been active in areas like health and education. But generally the Indian attitude to charity, both at individual and corporate levels, and activities to reach out to the less fortunate leave much to be desired. We need to understand the pleasures and value of giving and caring for others much more than we do now.

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