One of the moral science stories from my school goes like this – in a Buddhist town, they were set to build a monastery. Every household had to donate a gold coin towards this endeavour. The donated gold coins had to outweigh that of the Buddha’s idol. So volunteers went door to door to seek every family’s donation. They reached a poor man’s hut, and the man gave them one bronze coin stating that this was all that he had, and would be happy to give his all to the town’s endeavour. The volunteers rejected it as it was not gold and moved on.
The day came when, in a public event, they were weighing the gold collected with the Buddha idol sitting on one side of the scale. They emptied the abundant collection on the other side of the scale, but Buddha did not rise. Many came forward and added more gold to the scale. The Buddha idol still outweighed.
Finally, a monk asked if every household in the city had donated? The poor man stepped ahead and said he has only one bronze coin to offer and no gold, so the volunteers had not collected it. The monk asked him if he was willing to add the coin to the scale and the poor man said he would, most gladly. So, the poor man steps forward and adds his one and only bronze coin to the scale. The scale completely tipped with the Buddha idol rising and the side of the scale loaded with gold and a sliver of bronze resting on the ground.
I don’t quite remember what the book concluded as the moral of the story. But, for some reason, the story has found permanent residence in my subconscious. Not just me, but a vast majority harbour the essence of this narrative that is repeated time and time again in different motif, making it an integral part of our everyday culture, the ‘hundi’ culture. The conviction in us is resolute, that the metaphoric bronze coin we have is no less than a gold and that is what is needed to save humanity. Naïve beings!
In the context of 2020 India, when the Corona Virus pandemic broke, the central government too set up a fund under the name ‘PM Cares’. It was hugely campaigned with big corporates and celebrities pledging their support. But also, many public sector and central government employees had part of their salaries deducted to involuntarily donate in this fund. No one knows though on details of how this fund is being managed and has a convoluted immunity even to RTI.
The massive displacement of the daily wage earners due to unscientific lockdown models, set a new domino effect. Across sectors, jobs are lost and salaries slashed. All these reflecting in unprecedented Q1 20-21 GDP numbers. To this health crisis and economic crisis add the monsoon, which responding to the climate crisis has created havoc in the ecological bodies of the Sundarbans and Kaziranga Forest killing vast wildlife and displacing tribal communities. The regular landslides and the expected misery of monsoon continued with new vigour in other parts of the country.
What was the role of a majoritarian government elected democratically to these crisis? Sham monologues and picturesque portraits with a peacock, while robing its own citizens! This only mocks all the ones who trusted their vote to this leadership. If you are lacking in imagination of how cruelly insensitive the regime is, please recollect the scenes from Rajamouli’s Baahuballi, where the soldiers are snatching every ounce of gold from the citizens and pushing them to destitution, for the sake of making a grand golden effigy of the ruthless king.
The mainstream media and large corporates growing in fortune in these times have their fair share of apathy in making a bad situation worse. But that’s for another day to ponder upon.
Today though if we hear the pain pangs of the stories coming from all kind of crisis, it is only through emerging alternate media, individuals with intent and mushrooming small organizations and set ups that are standing up to amplify the voices of the meek. Each of these small groups have some small fund to champion one of these causes. These small groups in their limited capacity, with the support of largely crowd funding are breaking sweat to keep a few afloat for one more day. The amazing thing is the transparency of the whole process that is out there for anyone to audit is also noteworthy.
Relentlessly they are collecting what ever ‘bronze coins’ they can and are hoping against hope that the scale would tip. My own deep marinated thought of the moral science story makes me believe too, that the scale will tip; eventually!
As we continue to join forces and contribute to those many small efforts that is buying additional time for the few to just ‘hang in there’, we need to also seek for a more permanent solution. We need to radically change the narrative of the ‘moral science story’. The current narrative on which the government is taking advantage, keeps asking more and more of the marginalised to give into the hands of the already endowed. It normalizes the wealth inequality by making the poor feel richer in virtue. This is our ‘hundi’ culture, a matter of sentiment! Touchy terrains.
If the story has to be a true to moral science and a stepping stone for humans to progress, then we would have a story where the town is first accountable for the one poor man to also have a living where he could earn, save and donate in gold, before the town sets to build a monastery. This would truly merit Buddha’s ideology that was in fighting dogma and not use him as a mere tool to push the dogmatic agenda further.
Thus we need to ask, why any government in current times with sophisticated tools of forecasting and planning, seek additional aid from its citizens and not plan for contingencies and crisis. And if at all it does seek for additional funds, it needs to be fully transparent and accounted for. We need to engage in a conversation and debate and ensure we get the ones we elected to be answerable to all our wellbeing. Because, the unfortunate fact is, that what the few men in political and institutional power can achieve in a stroke of a signature, would be impossible for the largest good willed masses to ever accomplish in many a lifetime.
In a fair and a just governance, there is no need for donations and crowd funding. And that starts by changing the narrative of the stories around donation.