An Act of “Daan” in Indian Culture

sduncan post on February 4th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Candice Stone

In India, it is customary to employ domestic help, whether it be cleaning and dusting the house, cooking meals, washing and ironing clothes, or washing automobiles on a daily basis. Such tasks, in the Western world are ordinarily performed by ordinary citizens; the concept of “domestic help” is either non-existent or constrained to the elite in society. However, in India (and other nations comprising the “Third World”, to that matter), due to over-population and prevalent economic conditions, domestic help is freely available. What more, such help is available at a relatively (to the Western world) inexpensive price.

Domestic help is so universal in India, that, one does not need to be a part of the elite class (economically) to take advantage of the benefits of domestic help. Ordinary middle (lower to upper) class families can take advantage of freely available domestic help at nominal prices. That said, there tends to be a reciprocal relationship between the “hirer” and “worker” that transcends monetary remuneration in the form of monthly salaries. Both parties recognize the integral role that each other plays – economically and pragmatically.

It is significant to focus on the non-economic, and to that matter, philanthropic role that the hirers play, especially during major religious festivals and national holidays (such as Diwali, Eid, Christmas, and New Years’). Such events are marked by much joyousness and fanfare – certainly those relegated to the lower economic strata (especially, those contributing to the “informal” workforce) are never neglected. Specifically, significant events, such as those aforementioned (and often dependent upon the dominant religion or the religion of the potential recipient) are considered reason to give. In fact, it is customary to offer material items and /or money during such times.

My husbands’ family in India have always been ardent advocates of giving during festivals. Common items (over and above monthly salaries) that are offered in donation are old (albeit in good shape) garments, utensils, and bedding, to name just a few. What is even more noteworthy is that such items were offered not just during “special events” and festivals, but on a yearly basis. What is more, gifts offered over and above monetary remuneration seem to contribute to job satisfaction. It is a way for the employer to demonstrate how much they need the domestic help – in return, they receive efficient, punctual, and reliable service, and above all, trustworthiness. In a society that is innately dependant on verbal (most often, non-verifiable) trust, the aforementioned traits are vital factors. The fact that trust is predicated in such seemingly trivial acts of philanthropy (old material items and negligible sums of money), is impressive. This fact highlights the fabric of giving or daan that inhabits the crux of Indian society and the Hindu religion, to that matter.

Works Cited

1. Sudip Duttagupta, Verbal Communication (my husband who was born and raised in India)

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