Message for international donors to India

There are several reasons why donors choose to fund India. Apparently there is no dearth of funds for research, innovations and essential services. Some donors may have a hidden agenda – infiltrating the Indian system – a foot into the door so to speak, followed by a takeover – controlling decisions and policies, opening markets to meet vested interests -big players!!.The commercial playing field is well assessed by experts, every initiative is examined with a business lens, potential markets are identified, subsidies ensured. They network with governments with an implicit understanding of systemic weaknesses – weaknesses that work to their advantage.

This post is not directed at those.

There are some international agencies that genuinely want to support and nurture development. They feel the need for a more equitable world which they can support through technical expertise and funds – commendable indeed!! A Google search for funding agencies reveals the magnamity behind those who support international funding – a way of sharing resources and helping those in need.

Unfortunately, the donors can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of comfort about India’s problems. When they visit India, their contact is almost exclusively with the upper caste and class who determine to a large extent what is visible, what is unseen, and how issues are addressed.

Donor understanding of untouchability, exclusion and human rights violation can be made ‘glossy’ by the explanations offered by their upper caste and class colleagues. Discrimination in India is like a clever demon –it sometimes dances at cultural events, sometimes it gives speeches, it represents India’s country’s poor at international fora, it is smart, slick and even cracks funny jokes. Then the world relaxes – India is now in good hands!! All that the donors may feel like doing is sit back and admire the show…….

However, when specific issues like discrimination and human rights violation, are brought up, the ‘argumentative Indian’ clams up. He or she will NOT be drawn into a discourse or dialogue. He will not fall for your bait, he will not defend his actions, she will continue performing actions that are denigratory to someone else without offering a single word in the nature of an explanation. He will talk about discrimination like a boring past minor aberration that has only limited (like a fable) current relevance. She will talk about Government schemes for the ‘oppressed’. She will also tell you in no uncertain terms that the excluded groups are themselves rather unwilling to help themselves. She will talk about discriminatory practices as cultural phenomena representative of India’s traditional and historic glory.

The ‘lower caste’ has no word to offer and no history except what is allowed and sanctioned. They are silent and their existence feeds a belief of their own inferiority. They have no voice, so they will not be heard. One will only hear about them. And one will only hear so much as one is allowed to. One is unfortunately not allowed much and neither does one seem to question much.

In the face of outrageous social phenomena of humanitarian concern, there is a tendency to give issues names that protects oneself. Has a donor ever heard an upper caste Brahmin talk about poverty except with the most clinical of terminology – the “below poverty line”, the “vulnerable”, the “marginalized”, the “under-privileged”, ‘the tribals’?

Has anyone ever suggested or discussed with donors, that their own community and religion, with customs and rituals that are consistently practiced, systematically excludes and denigrates other humans? Has any one of them ever said ‘My religion is discriminatory’? Has anyone ever questioned or laughed at the ludicrity of practicing a religion that gives a hierarchical status to some and a bestial status to others.

Donors would rather view the world with a benign eye. They would, in their attempts to break the barrier between the developing and developed world, tolerantly nod at the exclusive rituals displayed and demonstrated to them, in the name of culture and tradition. Do they not need to question whether these very rituals are socially excluding?

“Indian” cultural programs, theatre, dance, music – these are the prerogative of the upper castes. It is a systematic, obvious and shameless demonstration of the exclusion of the dalits,‘outcastes’ and ‘untouchables’ from every social and cultural activity in India. The process of exclusion is physical, social and psychological.

The unique feature of the Indian social system is that the ‘victim’ is himself or herself convinced of his or her abject inadequacy to exist as a human being. Whereas racism could be argued to be against the majority religion’s core principles, the practice of caste in India faces intrinsic religious sanction.

One can give pity to marginalized groups in an extraordinarily discriminatory society such as in India, but it is vital to look inwards at the contribution of oneself and one’s community to human rights violation. It is important to speak and it is important to acknowledge. There is an interesting analogy of a man who has a herd of cattle that he cares for very well. When asked why he doesn’t just set them free, his response is simple – ‘But then, I can’t milk them”.

If donors do not demand financial accountability from their partner Indian organizations, that is commendable. It demonstrates a trust that is good and a willingness to break traditional “funder behaviour”. However, if they do not demand moral accountability, if they fail to look below and beyond what is made visible to them, then they do demonstrate a rather unforgivable flaw.The money that donors spend, would never have reached the genuinely marginalized. This is the serious flaw in fund contribution to India.

Donors have a moral imperative to question more than what they hear. To not believe even if it is told a thousand times (with evidence) by a narrow caste and class group. To not believe the voice of the ‘marginalized’ if it is presented by an upper class group.

So what should donor agencies insist on – they should insist on leadership from the marginalized, even if their quality, education and language skills are not “up to the mark” (as defined by the upper caste). They should insist on nurturing and supporting leadership and capacity building of those who need this support the most. They should insist on representation by a dalit on their project management committees.

The caste groups have formed an interesting alignment and affiliation – they may present someone who is ‘just above a dalit’ – i.e. a shudra as the lowest rung of the hierarchical caste ladder. It is important to realize that a shudra still falls within the caste system. He or she is still more socially acceptable than a dalit, an outcaste, an untouchable. Your Indian representatives may tell you ‘these people get benefits but they don’t come up, many are not educated’. But if you look you will find them – struggling without jobs because organisations do not give them a space. As a donor, this would be your moral obligation to the most deprived and marginalized in India.


5 thoughts on “Message for international donors to India

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  1. Working with those marginalised is the only way to open they up to speak their mind. Religion must now be put to test in order to show how much damage it could have brought about at the expense of humanitarianism. Those who have grown up in shunned circumstances and have had opportunity to go beyong social isolation must take front line responsibility to challenge authorities and religious leaders to wake up to humane senses. God has created everyone equal and no one lives life forever, so in my village I have often challenged traditional leadership about who gave them the right to rule over others, and the authority to claim they are the owners of the soil, for genartions have passed away, leaving the soil they claim to be theirs intact. It is a shame the world is still fraught with mischief and injustice. Why do we claim to be educated then? Educated on and about what? Those labelled as world leaders must be ashamed of their hipocricy! It soon that we will see the wind of change as the oppressed are quietly building bomps of discontent against authoritarian leadership. Time is the best judge and change is ever constant.


  2. Dear Aaron, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please write about your experiences and how you challenged traditional leaderships. We can put it up on this blog. It will help those of us who face similar situatons. Sylvia


  3. I write encroach upon your dedicated valuable time and to state that ours is an NGO Institution regd under WBSRA working in the field of Art nd Culture and social welfare for the last 10 years. But due to paucity of funds we are unable to extend our activities in wider form. So, we are looking for funds for our art nd culture. We shall be highly obliged if would help in this regard.


  4. Dear Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, highly informative blog. I am from Delhi College of Engineering. I have faced this discrimination in very first year of my college that dealt be a big psychological blow. It took many years to me understand the so called cacophony of upper cast.
    Your another blog about psychological analysis of man and women are also highly accurate.


    1. Yatish, glad to know you have overcome the psychologic trauma of dealing with this social virus. Please do document and share your thoughts. The more people talk about it the better.


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