Charity or Empowerment?

This post is in response to Indispire Edition 31: “Charity or Empowerment? Are charitable donations to feed and house the poor really the way out of the mire of poverty or do NGOs need to focus more on skill development? Should we as donors be more proactive rather than merely donating money?”

In reply to this question, many, maybe most of us would quote the proverb,
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (For the record, I haven’t been able to get an authoritative identification of the source of this proverb.)

In other words, charity will feed a person for a day or a few days, but if that person learns a skill, (s)he will feed herself/himself for a lifetime. Skill development is probably the most important part of the long-term solution to a person’s poverty.

However, any person would be physically fit enough and in the proper frame of mind to learn any skill only if her/his basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met, at least partially if not completely.

Most of us have been lucky enough to have been born into families where our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met adequately, maybe much more than adequately, and we also enjoy many luxuries. However, there are many persons for whom, for no fault of theirs, even partial fulfilment of their basic needs is a distant dream. Before such persons start learning any skill, their basic needs must be met, at least partially. Hence, NGOs first focus on feeding, clothing and housing the poor, then on skill development. It’s not about charity or empowerment. It’s all about charity and empowerment!

How can we be more proactive as donors? We must donate only to those NGOs that utilise most of their funds for their core activity. This need not mean that we donate only to large and well-known NGOs. There are quite a few smaller NGOs that are doing excellent work. We should donate to such NGOs as well after making background checks, directly or through any reliable person(s). Many NGOs allow donors to specify the purpose for which their donations should be used. Some NGOs have schemes by which a donor can sponsor the education of a particular child; reports on the child’s progress are sent periodically to the donor, and the donor can also interact with the child if (s)he so desires.

If we look around and ask around, we can find persons whose basic needs are met, but who do not go in for education or skill development due to financial constraints. These could be our domestic helps, drivers, security staff, etc. or their family members. We could help such persons by financing their training and/or by helping them to obtain financial assistance from various organisations that we may be aware of.

There are some highly skilled workers whose career growth is severely limited by their lack of knowledge of English and/or lack of exposure to computers/internet/email. Whenever we come across such persons, we should help them acquire these skills. Such persons can become excellent mentors for others in similar situations.

There are many more ways in which we can be ‘proactive donors’. The only requirement is we must be prepared to spend some time and effort to ensure that the money we donate is used well.

The maid must have stolen it!

An Assistant Manager in a large company had gone to an in-house meeting, inadvertently leaving an expensive wristwatch on his desk. When he came back a few hours later, he realised that the wristwatch was missing. None of the others in the office could recall seeing anybody near his desk during his absence, but almost everybody opined that the watch must have been stolen by one of the ‘Canteen Boys’ or Housekeeping staff. He reported the matter to the Administration Department, which, in turn, reported the matter to Security. Simultaneously, the GM – Administration sent an email about the matter to all employees, requesting them to immediately acknowledge receipt of his email and also to provide any relevant information.

Security summoned all the ‘Canteen Boys’ and Housekeeping staff on duty and questioned them about the missing wristwatch. All of them denied any involvement in or knowledge about the matter. As usual, they were all frisked and their belongings were checked at the gate when they left for the day, but that day the frisking and checking was more methodical than normal. However, the wristwatch was not found.

In the meanwhile, all employees had acknowledged receipt of the GM – Administration’s email, but nobody had provided any information.

The Head of Security informed the GM – Administration that their only hope would be to check that day’s records of the CCTV cameras in that office. He assured the GM – Administration that he would do this immediately and would submit a report by the next morning.

The next morning, the Head of Security reported that the CCTV footage clearly revealed that the wristwatch had been stolen by one of the company’s senior managers! There was absolutely no scope for doubt.

The senior manager had acknowledged receipt of the GM – Administration’s email the previous evening.

The senior manager was summoned to the GM – Administration’s room and asked if he knew anything about the missing wristwatch. He claimed ignorance, but accepted his guilt when shown the CCTV footage. He was asked to submit his resignation, which he did immediately, and was relieved within an hour.

This incident was related to me by a person who was employed in the same company and had been present in the office that day. He was shocked by the senior manager’s guilt. He was more pained by the fact that the ‘Canteen Boys’ and Housekeeping staff were automatically suspected, questioned, frisked and searched.

I share his pain about the way the support staff was treated, but I am not surprised at all. This happens on a regular basis in many households. Whenever any valuable item (or a small amount of cash) goes missing, the domestic help is almost invariably suspected.

Some employers keep their suspicion to themselves, but take extra care to keep all valuable items out of the domestic help’s easy reach.

Some employers politely ask the domestic help if (s)he has seen the missing item.

Some employers quietly ask the domestic help if (s)he has taken the missing item.

Some employers openly accuse the domestic help of having stolen the missing item, a few even threatening to file a police complaint. In most cases where the domestic help has been openly accused by the employer, the services of the domestic help are terminated or the domestic help quits the job.

In most of the cases, the missing item is found after a few days. When this happens, are suitable amends made to the domestic help who was suspected or accused of stealing it?

Why do we assume that economically weaker people are less honest than others?

According to me, except in very rare situations, there is no connection between a person’s honesty and his/her economic condition. What do you think?

Different strokes for different folks!

One of my service engineers and I were scheduled to meet at our office at 9.00 am one morning and proceed to a customer’s factory to meet the customer at 10.00 am. I reached our office at 8.55 am, but the service engineer reached at 9.10 am. He apologised for being late, but I was terribly upset and gave him a stern lecture on punctuality as we drove towards the customer’s factory.

Since I had kept a buffer of 15 minutes, we managed to reach just in time for our meeting, only to find that the customer himself had not arrived. When he came in at 10.30 am, he apologised, explaining that there was unusually heavy traffic that morning. Both my service engineer and I knew this was not true because the customer had used the same road that we had. Obviously, he had started late from home. Instead of pointing this out, I told the customer it was OK.

I realised that I was using different yardsticks for my service engineer and for my customer. In fact, I realised that my behaviour in most similar situations depended on who the other person was. Whenever a supplier or service provider, say an electrician or a plumber, would be late for any appointment, I would give the person a severe dressing down. However, I often tolerated the unpunctuality of my customers, bank officials and others because offending them could affect my business interests.

On the way back to office after our meeting, I explained to my service engineer that ‘practical considerations’ had prevented me from reacting to the customer’s unpunctuality in the same way that I had reacted to his latecoming. I’m not sure if he accepted my explanation, but from that day, I have consciously tried not to speak harshly to juniors, suppliers and service providers when they are unpunctual. I believe that if I cannot speak out against the unpunctuality of my customers, bank officials and other ‘important’ persons’, I have no moral right to be harsh to other ‘not-so-important’ persons in the same situation.

Don’t we all have ‘different strokes for different folks’?

Late for a meeting? The ‘not-so-important’ person is unpunctual. The ‘important’ person is normally punctual, but she/he got delayed due to factors beyond her/his control.

Doesn’t work hard enough? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a lazy bum who has no initiative. The ‘important’ person is ‘not in the rat race’.

Didn’t achieve the desired result? The ‘not-so-important’ person didn’t put in enough effort. The ‘important’ person was unlucky.

Tipsy? The ‘not-so-important’ person is drunk. The ‘important’ person is mildly intoxicated.

Eats too much? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a glutton. The ‘important’ person is a gourmet.

Drinks too much? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a drunkard. The ‘important’ person is fond of drinks.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is corrupt. The ‘important’ person is ‘street smart’.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is finicky. The ‘important’ person is methodical.

Don’t we consciously or unconsciously believe that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

Shouldn’t we all believe and practise that “All animals are equal”? It’s not easy, but let’s try.

Punished for being poor?

At around 5.00 am one morning in 1989, I was travelling by an auto-rickshaw from the railway station to my house. I was upset that the auto-rickshaw driver had demanded Rs. 20 more than the night fare, and I was releasing my frustration by muttering to myself. All of a sudden, the driver asked, “Sir, many people say Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has taken a bribe of Rs. 64 crores from a foreign weapons manufacturer called Bofors to give them a huge order from the Indian Army. See what our nation has come to!”

I replied, “I’m not an admirer of Rajiv Gandhi’s. But, I don’t think he has taken the bribe.”

The auto-rickshaw driver persisted, “Sir, some highly respected newspapers have published documents which show that Bofors has definitely paid this bribe, and that this bribe is meant for Rajiv Gandhi.”

I replied, “Maybe a bribe has been paid. But I don’t think Rajiv Gandhi has taken the bribe. Some other people may have taken the bribe by misusing his name.”

At this point, the auto-rickshaw driver said something I’ve never forgotten: “Sir, even after reading the reports in highly respected newspapers, you are not willing to say that Rajiv Gandhi MAY have taken the bribe. On the other hand, a few minutes back, you were condemning me for asking only for Rs. 20 extra fare. Why this difference, sir? Isn’t it because he is an upper caste, fair-skinned, English-speaking man belonging to a wealthy and powerful family and, most importantly, the Prime Minister of the country, but I am a lower caste, dark-skinned, non-English-speaking, poor auto-rickshaw driver? Let me tell you, sir, the policemen at the railway station harass me because I drive the auto-rickshaw in the night shift. I can get away from them only by bribing them. I charge extra fare only to compensate for those bribes. Powerful politicians make money by cheating our motherland, but people like you respect them. You will shake their hands, maybe fall at their feet! I am trying to earn a living by working honestly, but you treat me as if I’m a criminal. Sir, I’m not a criminal. The bitter truth is, my poverty is my crime!” I had no reply.

I remembered this incident after reading this report in The Times of India about Umakant Mishra, which was sent to me by a blogger friend.

In July 1984, Umakant Mishra, who worked as a postman in Kanpur, was accused by his seniors of stealing Rs. 57.60. He was suspended from his job, and a criminal case was filed against him. After over 300 hearings over 29 years, he was declared innocent in November 2013. In the meanwhile, he remained suspended from his job for almost 26 years till his retirement in 2010. He and his family suffered financial problems and social stigma. They think that their future is destroyed.

Umakant Mishra and his family have suffered immensely, for no fault of theirs, for Rs. 57.60, which was not a big sum even in 1984. Even if he was guilty, this punishment is unfair.

Compare Umakant Mishra’s case with people who get away with massive corruption, sexual crimes and worse only because they are wealthy and/or powerful enough to influence the police investigation in addition to having the means to hire highly paid lawyers who can get them proved innocent in a court of law.

Was Umakant Mishra punished for being a humble postman, not a powerful and wealthy politician or businessman?

Why this deafening silence?

In the first week of October 2013, there were reports about a girl, working as a domestic help in a posh locality in Delhi, having been subjected to extreme torture by her employers, a woman working as a senior executive in a multinational company.

According to this report in The Financial Express, the victim has alleged that:
She was made to work for long duration.
She was not given proper food by her employer.
She was not allowed to use the washroom.
Her employer used to continuously beat her and she was not paid any money for her services.
Burn marks were caused on her body by her employer.
She was once forced to drink urine and was confined in the house in a semi-naked condition.
She was forced to clean the area outside the house in a semi-naked condition.

According to this report on, when the (rescue) team entered the house, they found the teen domestic help lying naked on the floor. Her body had gashes in different parts; she alleged that her employers had ordered their dogs to bite her.

According to this Firstpost report, the employer was arrested and sent to 14-day judicial custody. 4 days later, her bail plea was dismissed. As the judge said, “The investigation done so far only supports the version of the victim.”

I could not find any report on this case after October 07, 2013, so I do not know what the present status is.

The gangrape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012 resulted in immense expression of outrage by people like us, rightly so.

The gangrape of a photojournalist in Mumbai in August 2013 also resulted in substantial expression of outrage by people like us, rightly so.

What amazes me is the deafening silence of people like us on this case, on the streets, on television, on Facebook, on blogs, everywhere.

Why this deafening silence?

Is it because we don’t know about this case?

Or is it because crimes against women/girls by men are unacceptable, but crimes against women/girls by women are acceptable?

Or is it because crimes against women/girls by husbands/in-laws are unacceptable, but crimes against women/girls by employers are acceptable?

Or is it because crimes against educated people (physiotherapy students, photojournalists, etc.) are unacceptable, but crimes against uneducated people are acceptable?

Or is it because crimes against middle class (and above) people are unacceptable, but crimes against poor people are acceptable?

Or is it because crimes committed by poor and/or uneducated and/or rural people are unacceptable, but crimes committed by middle class (and above), educated, urban people like us are acceptable?

Or is it because we are all guilty of the same crime, maybe to a much smaller extent?

Or is there any other reason?

Why this deafening silence?

Related posts:

If a girl is being sexually harassed …

Thwarting sexual harassers, Reducing sexual harassment

If a woman tells you she has been raped …

What happens after rape? What should happen?

Tackling workplace / sexual harassment

Do we care about the Human Rights of the people in our lives?