Social responsability revisited

TV's prodigal child is three episodes old. I am talking of SJ hosted by a leading film star. I must admit that I was taken in by episode 1 as it touched a raw nerve though I did have my reservations. It was a little too glitzy for my liking and sounded a tad false and failed to address the real issues. Post episode 1, I learnt that the anchor was charging a whopping 3.2 crores per episode. I must admit I was saddened and somehow the show lost its charm at least for me. Seemed that social responsibility was the new kid on the business block.

Call it synchronicity but some days later I came upon an article entitle: How My Conscience Was Abducted in Dantewada. In the garb of social responsibility, the Essar Group recently organised a storytelling festival for the ‘benefit’ of children in this Maoist-dense area. What emerged most starkly was the stench of corporate propaganda. The article is written by a story teller invited to tell stories to a bunch of tribal kids in a language they did not understand and who felt his conscience was abducted. The scenario goes something like this-  the protagonists: a corporate in desperate need of a new coat of veneer, an event management company desperate to conjure a sense of celebration in an alien place, hundreds of bewildered children gathered to hear stories in a language they do not understand and a bunch of bored officials present to give the stamp of officialdom; the stage: hurriedly white washed hall with buntings more appropriate to an upmarket literary festival than a story telling for tribal children. The children were made to listen to corporate  propaganda and incomprehensible stories, feat made harder by the pangs of hunger as the organisers has miscalculated the numbers. Pictures were taken to adorn the CSR pages of websites and publications, a huge budget was earmarked for those in power to spend. All in a all a success except for the children who still did not quite fathom what was happening. The question that begs to be asked is: is such a farce needed? My answer is a big NO! Such efforts are to my mind pathetic and revolting. Corporate Social Responsibility at best eases some consciences, makes good photo ops and lines pockets. The supposed beneficiary is left bewildered and empty handed.

How the receiving side feels was best portrayed by one such recipient. We too have had our own first hand experiences be it the lady from a prestigious club who brought a few sweaters on a hot September morning and her personal photographer in tow. She insisted that the special kids wear the sweaters in spite of the sweltering heat, so that she could have a photograph for the newsletter of her club! Or how can I forget the man who in response to our appeal for help for Raju's open heart surgery wanted to know why we were spending so much money for just a poor child. Charity has become a lucrative business.

On the other hand, call it synchronicity again, I stumbled upon another TV show called the  Secret Millionaire. True it is what is now called a reality show - the flavour of our times - but it rings true. The blurb of the show states: Millionaire benefactors say goodbye to their luxury lifestyles and go undercover in deprived areas to find out who needs their help. I was impressed by the part of the show I saw, but still a bit cynical and weary of reality shows I decided to catch a few more. It was truly inspiring. A millionaire spends 9 days in a destitute area to look for causes he may fund. It is bye bye credit cards and fat wallets. The protagonist is meant to survive on the minimum wage, often in a decrepit flat a far cry from his luxurious abode. He has to cook - or buy street food -, wash, clean and above all  find organisations worthy of his help. To achieve this he talks to people in pubs and other places and once he has a list of organisations he goes on to volunteer in them. This enables him to assess the real situation. At the end of his 9 days he reveals his identity and makes his donations.To justify the presence of cameras, people are told that a documentary is being shot to highlight the issues of the community. The show looks real and touches the heart. The millionaire is often shown coming back to the area weeks later to reconnect with those he helped. I must admit I too had a lump in my throat. If it is all scripted then it was a darned good job!

I could not help remembering a reality show that professed to get rich young Indians brats to experience life in a slum. Now one would think that they would live in an actual slum. Far from that. In line with the Big Brother set, a 'slum' was created for them.I remember watching one episode where the kids were in a large room with beds (I presume harder than the ones they were used to) and fans (no ACs). This was a bizarre depiction of slums as I know them. Wonder if any of those kids could have survived in Radha's home which is a hole in the ground, about 12 square feet, with an asbestos roof and mud floor. In that 'hole' live 4 adults and 4 children. One must not forget that little Radha suffers from brittle bone disease.

 I also wonder if any of our millionaires would agree to give up their comfortable lives and spend even one night if not in a slum, let us say in the likes of a DDA Jantadesi version of the Secret Millionaire. I guess production houses knew it was doomed to fail as they would find no millionaires willing to participate. I guess we have some more growing up to do. Our rich are more comfortable with the CRS version of charity that does not entail dirtying one's hand and is a perfect way to ease consciences.