John Rawls, a prominent philosopher, in his book “Theory of Justice 1971” said – “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” It means justice is a foundational principle upon which just, fair, and equitable societies are built. However, charity is the voluntary aid or philanthropic activities provided by a person or an organization. Both “Justice” and “charity” interplay with each other. For instance, charity is the response based on compassion and care while justice addresses systemic issues in an institution. However, the objectives of both are more or less the same i.e., a just and egalitarian society.
As John Rawls says “Laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.” Sometimes, it can be seen as a corollary with ‘zero-sum game’. It means whenever laws and institutions march toward the path of “unjust”, the role of “charity” takes a front seat. Similarly, whenever the intensity of justice increases i.e., “more justice”, the volume or need of charity decreases.
For instance, just after independence, Indian leaders were thinking about the historically deprived section. Due to mistreatment in some sections of society, their growth had not been sufficient. There were two options before the government – either to leave them over to charity as Mother Teressa founded “Missionaries of Charity in India” in 1950 or to ensure justice through the constitution. Indian leaders chose the path of social justice through affirmative action under Article 15. Over the period of time, it reduced the need for charity work for STs and SCs in India.
Now there can be a good question – Do we find such a trend in pre-independent India as well? If yes, then what has been the trend? – We can see the footprints of the relationship between justice and charity since ancient days. For instance, during ancient India, justice was dominating over charity. That’s why we find less evidence of charity in ancient India. It was primarily because society was more or less egalitarian in ancient India. Women were equally respected. There was no social stratification based on caste.
However, after post Vedic period, society was stratified based on case. Women’s position were deteriorating in India. It means the fragrance of justice started disappearing from Indian society. Therefore, charity started taking the front seat in India. For example, the role of “dan” (donation) started taking a central position in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Subsequently, in the Medieval period, the role of religion started replacing the role of reason or logic. Therefore, charity started taking the front seat by pushing justice to the back.
Afterward, with the advent of Europeans in India, the role of reason started replacing the role of the region. At the same time, the world started witnessing a renaissance where the concept of “nation” became more significant. Therefore, the British government in India started abolishing unsocial laws. For example, the abolition of Sati during Benedict is one of the examples. On the same line, the British government revoked child marriage, polygamy, infanticide, etc. Thus, due to the surge of justice, the value of charity started diminishing in India.
Down the line, this trend can be found in today’s society as well. For example, at the individual level, in a family, we see that parents often give preference to male children over female children. For example, a brother and a sister are fighting for the toy. Here, parents would mediate with them to solve it. Instead of doing justice, parents submit the toy to the male child by consoling and cajoling that they would bring a new and better toy for her. Here, instead of comforting, there was a need for justice. Thus, the amount of gender justice increases, and the role of charity for girl children would decrease.
Similarly, in society, especially in rural India women were limited to four walls. But the 73rd Amendment Act 1992 has provided a wing to the women in rural India. It tried to ensure social justice by ensuring 33% reservation to them. It has provided an opportunity for women to lead the society. Such things would reduce the need for NGOs working for women in rural India. Similarly, government schemes like Mid-day meals have filled the stomachs of children. Such things would reduce the dependency of children on NGOs working for hunger in rural India.
In the same fashion at the national level, initiatives like Ayushman Bharat would reduce charity in the health sector. It is so because the government is providing a handsome amount of Rs 5 lakhs per family per year so that they can get the best treatment in the private hospital of their choice. In a similar way, the poor state of government schools in India would increase dependency on NGOs. For example, Smile Foundation is working to assist school children.
Likewise, in the global sphere, we can see that where justice is lacking, the role of charity increases. For example, in Afghanistan, there is a lack of justice due to the surge of the Taliban. That’s why the people of Afghanistan were dependent on charity. Similarly, due to the decline in the prospect of justice in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the world is sending medical aid but not ensuring justice. Similarly, in Nordic countries, justice dominates over charity. That’s why Nordic countries generally top in most of the global rankings like the World Happiness Report.
Now there can be a question – Why Justice is often preferred over charity? – There could be various answers to this question. Justice ensures long-term sustainability and not charity. Charity can only assist in emergency situation and it can’t solve the problem at large. Apart from this, the state ensures justice, and usually non-state actors like NGOs work for charity. The state collects tax through obligation on citizens whereas NGOs demand voluntary contributions. Therefore, the state has more resources than a charity organization which would make them to sustain for a longer time.
Along with this, justice would make the victim independent whereas charity maintains dependency. It can be understood by the idea of “capacity building” propounded by Amartya Sen. He claims that a child needs to be taught how to ride a bicycle rather than giving him/her a cycle. Similarly, it would be better to teach them how to fish instead of giving them fish. Also, in the world where justice prevails like in Nordic countries over charity, tops the global indices like the World Happiness Index and Global Gender Gap Index, etc not where charity prevails like Afghanistan.
Here, can we conclude that there is no role of charity? If NO then why? The answer to this question would be a big NO. It is so because charity has its own role to play in our society. For example in the individual sphere, we can’t ignore the role of the Kudumbashree model in Kerala that helped in the emancipation of women from poverty and gender discrimination. In fact, it has assisted the social justice ensured through the 73rd Amendment Act 1992 that promises 33% reservation to women. That’s why panchayati raj in Kerala has been very successful in our country.
Similarly, in society, there was news from Punjab where a man who was a lawyer by profession was beating his mother in front of his son and wife. With the help of the daughter, CCTV footage came to the public, and based on this the NGOs working with elderly people rescued the old lady and arrested the accused lawyer. In the same way, NGO Pratham in the field of education is assisting the government of India in policy-making to ensure justice in a better manner.
Likewise, the role of charity can’t be completely ignored because it compliments. It is true that Ayushman Bharat would reduce the role of NGOs in healthcare, but hospitals would still be dependent on NGOs for blood banks and assisting people during a pandemic like Corona. It may reduce dependency between people and NGOs directly. But it would connect them indirectly with the help of the hospital. Similarly, it would also help in occupying vacant spaces. For e.g. Corona demanded e-education, Till the government comes up with policy and budget allocation, charity can help in ensuring justice.
Therefore, the government and NGOs should work in coordination to fight challenges like poverty, hunger, health, education, etc. India has committed to fulfill all 17 goals of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2023. In such a scenario, the role of charity organizations becomes very important. Thus, the government should regulate them effectively by protecting them from excessing bureaucratization. There is a need to ease the way of funding so that they can work effectively and efficiently.
The government can support them by providing protection in sensitive regions. Also, there is a need to build proper coordination to maximize the benefits of charity organizations. But we should keep one thing in mind – charity can be medicine but can’t be food. Justice should be the end game as mentioned in the preamble of our constitution.
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