COVID-19 Diaries - Day 20 of Lockdown

CONTINUED FROM - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 19 of Lockdown

Charity v/s Sharing

13 April 2020

In continuation to yesterday's episode, this morning, I asked Upendar if he had received any document from his village. He told me that after some contemplation, he has decided against traveling. His family had suggested him to stay back, as returning home did not seem like a feasible idea. First, he had to find a way to return home, which might take him at least a week, if not more. Even by train, they take 4 days to reach their village. Then, he will be in quarantine for 14 days in the village school. By then, the final rites of his daughter would be complete. So, considering this and all the other difficulties that he might have to face along his way back, the family decided against his travel. 

I called my student’s uncle who had some food supply to share. He arrived with some grocery that would suffice the labourers for at least ten days. There was a commotion out there when my student’s uncle met his friend from the apartment opposite to ours. This friend of his was loud-mouthed and together, they began to abuse the labourer's owner for not helping them. I was a bit worried that the owner might listen to this and cause trouble to the workers by asking them to vacate. I asked them to let it go. 

Then, the friend wanted to show off a bit. He called our watchman and made him tell how he offers them tea and snacks every evening. "Do I take any money from you guys for that?", he asked our watchman to which the latter shook his head. The friend then asked the workers why they never came out and that he did not even know they existed. All this boasting seemed extremely weird to me. I thanked my student’s uncle for his generosity and dispersed the crowd. 

Later that day, head constable Sriramalu called me. Sriramalu had helped us extensively during the mugging case. He has now become a good friend of mine. He told me that they were running out of good quality masks and jokingly asked me if I could buy him some from Bangalore. Well, with the lockdown, that seems impossible. I told him the story of Upendar and asked him if there was any chance of him being able to travel even after getting the pass. Sriramalu told me that it would be difficult as he shall have to hire a private vehicle to reach his village which is more than 2000 km away and that would be very expensive. "Video cameras are helpful during such events to view the final rites", he added. Indeed!

That evening we had an interesting class on subaltern studies. Mam introduced the topic and narrated a few examples. She mentioned about a Facebook post that she had read only a day ago. Someone had posted a story about their charity work during the pandemic. When they had gone to supply grocery to the poor, the poor had asked them - "Sir, food is fine, but what about the jobs? we have none." Someone had replied arrogantly to this post calling these poor ungrateful. "Even when you feed them they aren't happy and ask for something more", the reply was something in those lines. This in itself is a very elitist attitude. 

We tend to help people based on our opinions and thoughts on their situation. But we fail to understand their perspective. We tend to believe that if we feed the poor, their basic needs are met, and therefore, they shall remain satisfied. But, do we make an effort to put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand what they really want? Does their self-respect allow them to keep accepting our charity? Or do they want to earn their living, without relying on others? 

We also discussed the concept of Dhaana (Charity), which is prevalent in the current times. People are posting pictures of how they are helping the poor, and some, like that man from the apartment opposite to ours, want to brag about their petty favours. Mam clarified that Dhaana is a Brahmical or upper caste concept. We offer something as charity because we have an excess of it. But on the other hand, when a Dalit feeds a dog, he considers it as sharing of his possessions and not as charity. This struck me really hard.

Coming from a Brahmin family, I have seen this word being heavily abused. I have often been sceptical about this idea of Dhaana that lacked empathy. We often speak of Dhaana as a matter of pride. It is also an act of redemption. We go to the extent of calling the act of giving away used clothes as charity. It is also believed that our problems and difficulties would be transferred to the one receiving our used products. Even the idea of helping others, may give rise to a certain arrogance in people.

On the other hand, when Hanumma, a daily labourer living near my house in Surathkal, gives us some pulses that she has harvested from her fields, she does not consider it as charity. She is only sharing her produce with us. Therefore, it is not sympathy that we need to acquire, but empathy. This class gave a lot of clarity and comfort to me as I had been struggling to arrive at a solid conclusion to the doubts I had about these practices. 

When Sugreev thanked me for my help and told me that he shall remember my favour for the rest of his life, I thought to myself - I am just sharing what I have and that is my duty. Hence, through the subaltern's perpective, we can understand the subtle flaws in our own behaviours as the privileged. This clarity of thought, I believe, will allow us to be an empathetic individual. 

CONTINUED HERE - COVID-19 Diaries - Day 24 of Lockdown


  1. I am sorry Upendar could not join his family in this hour of tragedy. What someone replied to that Facebook post calling the poor people ungrateful is not right. It is uncalled for. He/she could have used some other civilized language. If I donate some groceries and the recipient ask me what about a job for me, I would be disappointed in my mind. I am able to provide some groceries only and be happy with that. I won't tell him. But my mind will think like that.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts SG. I don't think, there is anything wrong in the way you would think about it. But the point I am trying to make is that for many, charity is done more for ones own satisfaction, if not for selfish motives. Moreover, the concept of charity in itself is elitist in nature.


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