Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Ancient India

” Organisations should function like a tree. On one hand, they should take resources from the environment to strengthen themselves and on the other, they should give fruits which go back to environment “

When the acronym CSR is mentioned, an impression is created that it is a western a philosophy. But our historic facts say otherwise.

CSR is deeply embedded in our cultural roots. In ancient times, the Maharajas used to give away hoards of cows along with other gifts to the people. Huge donations to the temple meant the development employment and shelter for homeless in the vicinity.

CSR is nothing but an attempt by business to uphold the path of Dharma. Ancient Hindu philosophy has given the concept of the four Purusharthas, the basic objectives of human life — Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Out the four, the objectives of the first three i.e. Dharma, Artha and Kama are to lead society to material progress, cultural development and general welfare of its diverse population. Hence CSR is a manifestation of Dharma, the duty of human beings towards society.

CSR can also be seen as an extension of the ancient tradition of danna (charity), which has been the cornerstone of social concern for Indian society down the ages. Famous names like Raja Bali in Satyuga and Danveer Karna and Rantideva in Dwapar Yuga show us the importance of philanthropy in ancient Indian thought. The philanthropic leanings of people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett from the west had been a part of the Indian ethos long ago.

In the Rig Veda, the ancient Hindu scripture, there was a mention of the need for the wealthy to plant trees and build tanks for the community as it would bring them glory in life and beyond. Vedas emphasises that the continuous flow of money to people who need it is more important than its accumulation and creating wealth for the welfare of society is one of the important responsibilities of business enterprises.

Atharva Veda says that one should procure wealth with one hundred hands and distribute it with one thousand hands. The Yajurveda says that enjoy riches with detachment, do not cling to them because the riches belong to the public, they are not yours alone. The wealth, thus, should be used for social good. CSR then is nothing new.

The time has put dust on our memories and made us forget many of the ancient practices. Centuries of exploitative colonial rule had made the concept of CSR disappear from the subcontinent. Hence it seems like a new and foreign concept. Even today CSR is more of a corporate image building and a PR activity and less of a socially responsible activity.  The private sector is the backbone of Indian economy and through public-private partnerships and its outreach, it can play a huge role in resolving the socio-economic issues.  We need to Put efforts to reinstate this ideology.

Everybody in the corporate world has to play their part. Business schools need to train responsible managers, the government should introduce more inclusive policies and private sector should fuel responsible growth and investment.

It is high time to dwell back into the Vedic concept of CSR, as opposed to continually only looking at economic benefits. Let us redefine CSR and set an example for the world to follow. Let’s be the change which we desire so strongly.

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