Love Thy Neighbour, Not the Government - Some Ways of Expressing Social Solidarity

As a lasting solution for any crisis, small or big, and for life after the crisis, we should absolutely organise one or several networks of mutual social protection by way of contributory insurance institutions

Rao VBJ Chelikani

We have to invent many more ways for people to express their innate sense of human compassion and social solidarity, directly and continuously which would promote more trust and faith in each other among those who are living together in a given community. Struggling together to obtain something or sharing something which we have, rendering a service, supporting an institution to which one feels indebted, giving something in kind or donating some money to somebody in need, whether in an emergency situation like COVID-19 or even in normal conditions in society, can be considered as fulfilling one’s social responsibility. In the 21st century, more than ever before, many more of us are endowed with an appropriate humanistic spirit, an attitude of solidarity and also the capacity to give back to society, what we have received from it. 

1. The Individuals

In the past, individuals, families and groups have been spending money on charity in a way that serves the spiritual interests of the benefactor. For individuals, the In-Come tax department exempts them from taxation upto some amount donated for charitable purposes. The ceilings for the amounts spent on social welfare can continue to be raised by the government proportionate to the rise in the standard of living of the people.

Many successful economic actors, after having crossed a certain level of wealth, which ensures their personal security, are willing to share the fruit of their success with others by ‘giving away’ or ‘giving back’ or sharing with the society, a part of their assets, experience, talents and skills. Gandhiji has always considered that not only one’s property but also, one’s talents and skills are held by the owner as a trustee to serve them in the interests of others in society. An increasing number of such satisfied individuals are willing to forego concessions, subsidies, etc. offered to them by the administration routinely. For example, a great number of self-respecting citizens have been voluntarily ‘giving up’ the subsidies on LPG cylinders and concessions on railway tickets for seniors. It is in this context that we should appeal to the creamy-layer among the communities that are benefited by various reservations, to voluntarily give up those facilities. Similarly, more and more successful entrepreneurs are ‘giving back’ with gratitude as donations to the educational, health, medical or cultural institutions that have enabled them to grow and be successful. In other words, they are contributing to enhance the human and social capital in society. Historical models in this domain, which are increasingly inspiring the entire world are the Rockefeller Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, etc. in the USA and the trusts set up by the Tatas, the Birlas, the Godrej, etc. In India. These models are now being emulated in higher volumes by thousands of new individual entrepreneurs.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charitable trusts, such as the Red Cross, Akshaya patra,Seva Bharathi that collect or prepare things in kind to distribute them directly to the needy, unsung and un-photographed by the Media. But, the politicians themselves are not known to be big donors, though during the elections they are capable of mobilising hundreds of crores of rupees.

Hence, as individuals we should help and serve, as much as possible, personally and directly, starting from the neighbourhood. Blood and organ donations are a symbol of our passing on the gift of life to others. All senior senior citizens can leave something to the society after their death. There are also some noble individuals who serve the society, individual by individual, by devoting themselves entirely to relieve their pain and suffering, at their own initiative, without seeking any permission or recognition or tax concessions. We have no right to ask them about the benefit they would derive out of it. They might be altruistic in their gestures, or might sacrifice or renounce things, as an expression of their higher human values. 

2. Rudiments of a New Economic Culture 

A. Externally-Projected Social Responsibility 

An increasing number of budget allotments are being made in many firms for publicity, not only to be able to sell more, but also with a craving to establish their brand name, recognition and reputation by spending vast amounts of money, unrelated to the amount of profits they could earn. The best example is their financing of sports and games events. Their gestures go beyond the traditional patronage of charitable and humanitarian activities. A part of such actions is, no doubt prompted by fiscal incentives.

At present, the companies are further encouraged to spend on philanthropic activities under Corporate Social Responsibility up to 2 % of their profits. They are supporting or partnering with NGOs, associations or activists for social good. Some establish their own trusts when the sums are substantial. Some firms are directly undertaking developmental works. The state and Union governments can facilitate this trend by their more favourable fiscal incentives.

When an emergency situation presents itself in a community, locally each firm should take a firm commitment through their concerned professional associations or chambers or councils that they would directly and personally give whatever they can, freely, after a sympathetic assessment of the need of the persons around. A doctor can give medical services; a nurse can offer paramedical services; a carpenter or a mechanic or an engineer can repair things; a lawyer would help to deal with the insurance firms or with the Administration; a finance man would help to deal with the banks, etc., beyond his professional obligations. The medical council should advise their members to reduce their consultation fees or do some free consultations or increase the number of their working hours, or make domicile visits, etc. They can estimate the monetary value or worth of their further service that they would be willing to donate to the society. Such a service can be wholly free or partly free. The payments from the customers can also be partly deferred over the years, the duration of which would depend upon the capacity of the neighbour. All professionals who render services, like drivers, domestic helpers, nurses, mechanics, deliverers, etc. can easily spare or share some of their time for free. Those who produce or market vegetables or medicines can increase their production or sell for more hours, offer at reduced prices, or deliver free or give free certain items for certain categories of people, etc.

Further, when a grocery shop owner makes efforts to express his solidarity, such an attitude would, in the first place eliminate any temptation to hide the supplies, or to increase the prices. Unfortunately, some hospitals in Hyderabad during the COVID-19 health emergency have hiked their charges exorbitantly to treat or even to test the public, as an artificial scarcity was created by the governmental policy to exclude all of them in the beginning. Such economic offences would lead not only to depression or inflation or disinflation, but are also fatal to the belief in the inherent goodness of other human beings. It is the consumers that should stop visiting those hospitals in normal times, as they have betrayed human trust. 

B). Interiorised Social Solidarity

First of all, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has to be expressed by omitting to produce goods and services that have an anti-social impact in the given time and in a given social context, if not everywhere. A firm has to educate the buyer to be a Socially Responsible Consumer, and not to induce him to be a victim of his habit.

Years ago, already in Europe there was a wide protest as to how the huge quantities of the Vatican funds were invested in controversial firms. The financial advisers of the Pope were alerted and consequently, the funds were diverted away from the firms that were manufacturing or trading in products that were harmful to human health or life, such as the narcotic drugs or tobacco or instruments of torture or armaments.

Even when a product is  innocent, ex-factory or neutral or susceptible of double-usage, then, there should be constant research in precautions so as to make the product free from being misused or abused. In fact, all governmental regulatory bodies claim to be doing precisely that, though in a vexatious manner. It is the manufacturers themselves who should spend more money on research so as to see that preventive techniques are embedded in the package.

C). Journey Towards a Social Economy

i). The best way to serve a society is to see that every economic activity carried out by an individual serves the interests of both the producer and the consumer. Such a direct method would be efficient, enduring and humane. The savings of the citizens in the banks serve as capital for the entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurs, would share their earnings with the investors and the employees. A firmfulfills its social responsibility when it continues to maintain full employment and reach additional consumers, wherever they are. The two world wars could last several years, precisely because of the fact that the European firms on both sides have sustained the wartime economy with much self-discipline. This objective is fulfilled when all economic actors make extra efforts to make their products and services more accessible to more people, and at varied and affordable prices to more categories of consumers, without exhausting non-renewable natural resources.  

ii). Some spontaneous extra efforts are possible in collaboration with NGOs towards vulnerable and weaker sections of the society, like children, pregnant women, elderly, etc., so as to ensure their uninterrupted access to basic goods and services and to make their life equal to that of others in quality. Such measures of solidarity might be abstract and non-quantifiable. In such cases, some incentive might be chalked out by the tax authorities on the basis of some guidelines for the firms to self-assess their contribution. It is here the regulatory bodies should adopt a policy of trust and verify, rather than make rules that distrust and inspect. Social sanctions by way of consumer-reaction should be the ultimate punishment for any economic infraction.

3). Foreign Aid

Also, there is a long-standing practice of grants or donations or free supplies coming from foreign High Networth Individuals, NGO and governments from the developed countries, as well as grants or interest-free loans from multilateral bodies like the World Bank. India has been, for decades, a favoured recipient of such bilateral and multilateral aid without strings, even though, these are dwindling now. In case of external aid, India has always been insisting upon its distribution through departmental channels, rather than through the civil society organisations, it allowed some exceptions. Of course, in the past, the aid included in some cases, disguised investments by religious missionary zealots for religious propaganda and for conversions, which is deplorable. If we calculate what all we have been receiving in cash, kind and in services from the USA alone, leaving aside the other countries in G-7, ever since we became independent, it would amount to several trillions of dollars,  in terms of to-days’ prices. While being ever ready to return that generosity, we have to be grateful forever for what we have received when we were in dire need. Instead, in a recent case, our diplomatic corps demanded that we protest and threaten to take retaliatory measures when the turbulent US president Mr. Donald Trump proposed to reduce some trade preferences under GSP that the US has been offering since several decades. It should be noted that we are in a favourable balance of payments situation vis a vis the USA.

Spear-heading the Third World countries, India has always been proposing ‘trade, but not aid’ as the basis of international solidarity, and more recently, on occasions, it claimed that it can take care of its problems with its own resources while continuing to receive the usual bi-lateral aid from the developed countries. In the case of floods in Kerala in 2018, it has accepted funds from a public foundation from the Emirate states. In the context of COVID 19, Russia’s state-owned defence exports company Rosoboronexport had committed to donating $2million to the PM CARES Fund. Further, India has started giving aid to other countries, starting with its neighbours, in times of emergencies.  

In conclusion, while the governments may continue to exchange aid and trade and maintain diplomatic peace among themselves, it is essential that they should allow spontaneous people-to-people mutual help, which would reflect and strengthen human solidarity to contribute to genuine international understanding, peaceful attitudes and human development.

From the perspectives of long term human evolution, free financial and material support should be only for immediate relief and not as a permanent solution, which otherwise would hurt the inherent human dignity and autonomy. Such a direct ‘eye to eye’ exchange between two individuals, on the generous initiative of one of them, unfolds a moral force of solidarity. It adds the virtue of innocence to this gesture, transcending what appears as an incontestable unequal social relationship between the donor and the recipient.

As a lasting solution for any crisis, small or big, and for life after the crisis, we should absolutely organise one or several networks of mutual social protection by way of contributory insurance institutions. In some countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, where social democracy is a functional reality, the highly-productive working individuals contribute so much to the social economy that it is possible to give institutional care to all residents, whatever might be misfortune encountered by them. In the context of India, where there is huge manpower with very low productivity, we have to explore other and more efficient ways of social protection and security. As such networks are likely to incur losses for a long time to come, the tax money should come forward to make up for their deficit.

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