God is omnipresent and so have we heard. During my spiritual trip for a few days, exploring the inner most parts of South India, I found this to be true. Oh no, not the omnipresence, but the existence of an infrastructure in each of the villages I had visited. Temples indeed. Each village had one, sometimes two, right at the epicenter. To set the context, in one of the rural setup, a hospital was 45 kms away by road, while the temple was just few yards from each house door. Priorities.
The objective of this post is to collectively explore if the temples can play a far more pivotal role in economic development of a rural setup in our country? And if so, can it be more than just offering faith and hope? If God were an insurance agent, how would the world be?
Act of God: A legal parlance, deliberated in popular movies, by experts and of course a precursor in every single insurance document that determines the extent of protection of the incumbent from natural disasters. Now that we’ve established God to be part of the Insurance industry, legally, let us seek God’s advice here.
Customer behavior: I was present, long enough in each temple, to witness interesting patterns emerge. The visitors varied from peasants to land owners and the subsequent donations they handed out. Some gave coins, some gave notes and some cheques. All of them did so, with a hope of getting better from whatever peril they ail from, god bless them. The thought fascinates me that they feel invested in a temple and believe the almighty will protect them. For some lowly peasant who had donated, it would have to be after a difficult choice. Foregoing a daily tea, or a biscuit for their child to invest in that temple.
“How can we make this investment on intangible called hope to a tangible one called returns”? Our hypothesis statement.
Micro finance: Let us put in perspective. Temples and banks are no different. For the naysayers, are they really? Banks collect cash. Banks lend money to ones who are able to repay. Banks employ. I leave the derivation to you. I believe that temples can play a role in massively increasing the portfolio of microfinance. Temples have an assurance about them that enable people in the ecosystem to visit, invest and feel secure that they have done the right thing. Imagine a bank wanting to set up a rural center. The arduous task of process, drain in finances and most importantly establishing the trust from the people in the ecosystem. Government by means of regulation and incentives have pushed players to set up rural banks, but do not talk anything about, existing infrastructure to be people’s friends. May be governments have limited purview and are tied.
Can’t temples be a torchbearer themselves of micro financing thereby enabling people to help each other out? The stigma of non-repayment barring entry to the temple and its functions are a far greater stimuli to repay the dues compared to a loan provided by a bank. Temples have a sense of respect and brand, I see valid reason for it to continue the noble pursuit of helping needy mass.
Protection: I talked to strangers in random. People prayed for various reasons but protection was prime factor. Protection from illness, protection of their family members who are suffering. For some elderly, it was just that they had lost hope in the world and protection from suffering that they foresee was all they prayed for. All of them invest with an unwavering faith that the perils will only be cured. There is an aura of optimism when they donate. The tingling sound a coin makes when it reaches the bottom of a pot brings about a queer smile on their faces. If I were to ask them have they have taken a health insurance policy, of why have they have not, it might raise eyebrows and I would be an instant villain. An urban babu trying to make money of poor is not someone I wanted to come off as. But my imagination suggests that if the temple dawns of a role of a protection counsellor, the possibilities are seamless. Protection precedent is also set, where in every temple has a cloth full of essential grains tied atop its structure (Kalasam) in case disaster strikes (An act of god).
However in helping the needy, during the time of their health concerns, the temple oozes goodwill and nobility to be the front runner to lend a helping hand. An amount as a lumpsum to the family to recover and cover for productivity loss owing to ill health, is not a bad start. The temples too have much to gain by this simple gesture. Healthier families are more likely to keep visiting the temple, with enhanced beliefs and thus benefitting the temple in tangible and intangible ways. What would it take for us to activate this positive reinforcement?
Some temples are true to their might and are actively involved in developing the eco system they are part of. Education for children, meals for the poor, spiritual development etc. Being at pole position to bring about a positive change in people’s lives, I just expect they change tad bit faster with the times. A free meal can be a good helping hand to the poor, but it still does not solve the problem of self-flagellation they endure on the poor. It leads nowhere in inculcating a culture of self-respect in the poor and needy. It just pains me to see the places of worship are entangled in unnecessary and dubious debates around who can enter and who can worship rather than realizing the power the temples possess in enabling change.
Temples are directly linked to economics. I quote the invisible hand, that the need of the market will bring about equilibrium. I have not seen a God, but neither have I seen an invisible hand. A temple to its true noble cause, can do wonders. After all that is what we all hope for when we visit a temple. Wonders and miracles.
I believe god was meant to be a protective force. It is only logical inference to derive, if god were to be an insurance agent, he would be mighty good at it and we all shall wake up to a better and hopeful world tomorrow.