The ‘Anna phenomenon’ has inarguably changed our lives forever. Persuasive and reasoned arguments can be made as to whether it’s been for the better or the worse. Amid the heat and dust, the public discourse was dominated by a few phony arguments, which were even antithetical to the idea of representative democracy. Significant responsibility for this lies with the media as it focused on these erroneous debates. Outlook too surprisingly fell prey to this trend by legitimising a bogus debate (Flowing the Way of their Money, September 19). The article appears balanced, but is not able to justify the relevance of the debate it raises. The debate has become jaded and is, at best, of tactical value in intra-civil society struggles for greater legitimacy and credibility.
The Ford Foundation is governed by an independent board, which has no direct or indirect linkages with Ford Motor Co. This does not absolve it of having agendas and certainly, at some level, it must aspire to influence policy. However, the foundation’s operational frame in India is one of working through partnerships built on jointly agreed projects. These partnerships in no way dictate the politics to be pursued by partners. The article’s listing is itself a giveaway—for example, the CBGA (Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability), through its work, has built one of the most persuasive critiques of the neo-liberal agenda. Many of the organisations listed represent diverse worldviews, including critiques of dominant economic discourses.
Remember, the Ford Foundation has been in India since the early 1950s and has partnered with the government of India, the IIMs, the Planning Commission, state governments, among others. Its imprints on public policies are more than obvious. Why then are questions asked when this influencing of public policies is done by civil society with support from the foundation? There’s also a brahminical division here: foreign money for practice on the ground is welcome, but for policy work, it’s met with suspicion. When our government opens doors to foreign universities, no such objections of external influence on the public domain are put forth.
The sensitivities of a post-colonial society are much appreciated, but it’s time to come to terms with the much more textured reality of a globalised world. Strategically, the frontline work of political activism would still warrant caution on foreign funding, but it shouldn’t permeate to other domains of developmental work. Unfortunately, it does. The state converts this discourse of suspicion over foreign funds into a stick to hit and regulate the groups that ask uncomfortable questions of it. This discourse has become the foundation of a highly restrictive regulatory framework for civil society in the form of the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act). After three decades, the FCRA has been re-enacted to ensure a tighter law in response to ‘heightened security concerns’. At a time we go all out to attract foreign direct investment in almost all sectors, this looks to be more repressive and discriminatory toward civil society.
The reasons are political. Several international developmental agencies support groups working on human rights, governance accountability, gender and social justice. These tend to ask difficult questions of the government and seek accountability. Is it not odd that Amnesty International hasn’t been able to function in India due to one or another technical reason, including FCRA problems, while NCERT texts call it a premier human rights agency?
A few months ago, Warren Buffet visited India along with Bill and Melinda Gates. The key message they had for the Indian private sector was to invest in philanthropy. It was a timely and much needed reminder to the Indian private sector to take its role in the country’s development more seriously. However, a more nuanced message was needed. It was important for Buffet and the Gates to communicate the distinction between corporate image-building, charity and philanthropy. The real value-add would have been sharing of ideas of social justice philanthropy as opposed to a generic discourse on philanthropy.
The US and Europe have a rich history of social justice philanthropy, which is almost non-existent in India. Unlike philanthropy, which often focuses on a charity approach, social justice philanthropy makes use of a systemic approach to identify structural causes and solutions, particularly through the lens of equity and justice. This means that for radical and sustainable changes, multiple strategies, including mobilisation, advocacy and research, are needed. A real response to the ‘flowing the way of their money’ discourse would be big and mature investments in social justice philanthropy.
(The author is executive director, National Foundation for India)
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
PHILANTHROPY however good it seems to have a hidden agenda
In india they find instant supporters because of the scope that
much larger target audience is there to receive alms. The need of the present is to
AWAKE,ARISE...OR.... Simply elevate the minds. Thats the required sustainable change.
for that only one stratagy of educating all and not multiple is needed.
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