One thing that I’ve observed that most of us Indians lack is the ability to dissociate and disown. We are not readily willing to let go of people or things that we have once identified with ourselves, and we frequently get into trouble due to that.

Exhibit 1: So you have these random sundry hooligans who go around in the name of Hindutva creating nuisance and causing communal tension. On similar lines there is the so-called “Hindu terror”. But the official Sangh Parivar does little to dissociate from that, and ends up getting its name getting caught in various random acts which only ends up distancing it from the moderate right-of-centre.

Exhibit 2: When A Raja was under fire in the 2G scam, some Dalit organizations came out in support of him saying he was being unfairly targeted just because he’s Dalit. It was a similar case with former Karnataka Chief Justice PD Dinakaran. I don’t understand why Dalits want to identify themselves with such crooks and tarnish their community’s reputation, rather than distancing themselves and accusing them of sullying the name of the community.

Exhibit 3: All Lingayat mutts have come out in support of BS Yediyurappa, despite several calls for his resignation. Nothing more needs to be said.

Exhibit 4: A (distant) relative was recently arrested for pulling off a Ponzi scheme. Far from ridiculing him and distancing themselves from him, I found that most of the extended family chose to downplay the incident and avoid talk about the arrest (he’s been released on bail).

I remember reading about Obama’s presidential campaign, about how he strategically distanced himself from people he was once close to (his grandmom, some reverend, etc.) as soon as he realized that they were getting inconvenient for him.

I don’t understand why most Indians are incapable of such pragmatism, and choose to believe too much in “relationships”. And blindly back people we’ve been associated with rather than taking a pragmatic and selfish stand.

Tax Breaks

One thing that has struck me recently is about charitable organizations that try to attract donations by claiming “100% tax break under section 80G” or a similar 50% tax break or some such thing. Given how often organizations use this technique to get funds, I’m sure this works. That people do choose where to donate their money depending upon the amount of tax break they get.

I’m just trying to illustrate this concept from another angle. Let’s say you donate Rs. 10000 to a charity that has gives a “100% tax free” receipt. So effectively your taxable income goes down by Rs. 10000. And considering a 10% marginal tax rate (ignoring cess, surcharges, etc.) your tax payable comes down by Rs. 3000. So effectively, you have donated ONLY Rs. 7000 to this charity and forced the government to pay the balance Rs. 3000.

Do you see the catch in this tax-break scheme? Essentially the government is forced to pay money to charity at the behest of a single citizen! By granting this “tax free status” to a charitable organization, the government is making itself liable to commit unlimited funds to this particular charity (of course I suppose that it isn’t easy to get such breaks for your organization, and considerable greasing of palms is involved. But considering that a small charity run by my extended family gets 50% tax break it may not be very hard after all).

So yeah, I’m sure the numbers will be available somewhere but i’m too lazy to find it. But I’m interested in finding out the aggregate deduction sought by all taxpayers put together under this section 80G (the one where you get tax exemption for donations). And then see where the government’s forced charity is headed!

First name basis

1. I’ve noticed that people in the South use first names much more commonly than in the North. I can think if a simple explanation for this – south indians either don’t have family names (tn, old mysore) or have unpronouncable/hardtoremember family names (andhra/kerala). so a south indian Siddharth Tata is likely to introduce himself as T. Siddharth whereas a north indian Siddharth Tata is likely to say S. Tata.

2. I’ve noticed in my extended family that concepts such as “aunty” and “uncle” made their entry only in my generation. I’ve never heard either of my parents using either of these words, or any of their Kannada synonyms. Everyone is addressed by their first name, irrespective of whether he is nephew/cousin/uncle/granduncle.

However, this firstname thing stops at the family level and doesn’t extend to work. People unrelated to you instinctively become Sir or Madam (this is in my parents’ generation. I don’t know how people in my grandparents’ generation addressed unrelated people). In fact, all of my mom’s male colleagues used to address her as Madam (or I should say may-dum).

I don’t have data to support it but it is possible that this Sir business has something to do with the British Raj, and wasn’t common in South India before that. I don’t know how far back the “ji” system in the North goes (i know it goes back at least as far as Gandhiji), but my general sense is that it is fairly ancient.

Ok – so – here is the hypothesis. We Indians are not hierarchical at the family level. Despite all talk of “don’t question your elders” and similar sundry stuff, I don’t think at the family level we are inherently hierarchical. However, go beyond the family and the caste system takes over and brings in a social hierarchy – which is why everyone outside the family becomes “sir”, etc.