In India, ‘Religious Belief’, Not Humanitarian Crisis, Triggers More Charity

A study has found that Indians gave Rs 16,600 crore to religious organisations between October 2020 and September 2021 as compared to Rs 1,100 crore to non-religious institutions.

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New Delhi: During the COVID-19 pandemic, between October 2020 and September 2021, ‘religious belief’ was the biggest motivating factor for making donations by Indian households, a study has revealed. It found that Indians gave mostly to religious organisations – an estimated total of Rs 16,600 crore – during the period.

The study titled ‘How India Gives | 2020-21’ by the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University, was released on September 19. It was conducted to understand the formal and informal ways in which Indians donate to philanthropic causes.

During the period when the country witnessed the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the households surveyed donated the least to ‘non-religious organisations’. As per the study, they gave an estimated Rs 1,100 crore only. These organisations include NGOs, trusts, schools, PM-CARES, frontline workers, health and sanitation workers, etc.

Besides religious organisations, ‘beggars’ were the preferred recipients of donations, the study found.

“Of the total incidence of household giving, more households contribute to ‘religious organisations’ (64%), followed by ‘beggars’ (61%), ‘family and friends’ (9%), ‘non-religious organisations’ (5%), and ‘household staff’ (4%),” the study said.

There are other religious organisations as well, such as the Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevashram Sangha and Missionaries of Charity, which are involved in humanitarian work, such as providing shelter and education to the underprivileged, irrespective of their religious identity. However, the survey did not ask the respondents about these institutions.

According to Swati Shresth, co-author of the study, expressions like ‘religious beliefs’ can also include matters of faith and belief which are greater than religion, societal norms or learned behaviour.

While answering if the study indicated a strong influence of religion on philanthropy in Indian households, she told The Wire: “The survey did not reveal the specifics of what was meant by a broad description of ‘religious beliefs’. Religious institutions are defined as institutions of workshop such as temples, mosques, etc. Religious institutions can also perform social service or charity, so it’s best to expand the understanding of ‘religious beliefs’.”

Interestingly, during this period, only 15% of the total 5% households that donated to ‘non-religious organisations’ cited COVID-19 as the key reason for donation.

The findings are based on a survey of 81,000 households across 18 states, covering both rural and urban areas. The survey was conducted in two phases over a six-month period; during phase 1 of the pandemic in April 2021 (covering responses from October 2020 to March 2021) and phase 2 in October 2021 (covering responses from April to September 2021). It was conducted over the phone (77% in phase 1) and in person (97% in phase 2).

The survey was conducted based on the socio-economic classification (SEC), or affluence levels, of households. It used five broad income categories: SEC A (higher-income households), SEC B, SEC C, SEC D/E (lower-income households).

The SEC classification was done on the basis of the education of chief wage earners and the number of durables owned per household.

The study was conducted at a crucial time when India was facing its worst humanitarian crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hunger and food insecurity was gaining significant attention across the country.

For instance, during phase 2 of the study, when India witnessed the second wave of COVID-19, deaths numbered at over 2,000 in 24 hours. A study conducted by the Delhi government in August 2021 found that job losses during the pandemic led many to beg. Many were unable to find jobs they lost during the pandemic and a large number of families struggled to even access food.

This study also comes against the backdrop of reports on Ayodhya Ram temple trust receiving a donation of over Rs 2,000 crore as of February 2021, with the right-wing groups trying to make it a symbol of Hindu religion across the world.