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Saturday, 2nd December 2023



The history of the Jains has been one of generosity, vision and sacrificial leadership. My father, Mr. Keshavji Rupshi Shah, gave his life to the community in Mombasa in every which way, and the fruits of this sacrifice can be seen all around us in the generations of Jains who have sprung from that soil, directly or indirectly. Mrs Tara Rajni Shah demonstrated through compassion and courage how charity can be done pro-actively - watch this film and learn from her example. Britain and modernity has enabled us to be much more educated and prosperous, but instead of this success helping us build bold new visions and institutions, we are cowering towards selfishness, arrogance and ME FIRST AND LAST. This hurts me deeply, because I can see the huge damage on the horizon, and it feels as if our soul is being ripped apart. We have forgotten our cultural inheritance and failed in transferring it to future generations (with some notable exceptions like Shishukunj, Sansaar, Young Jains and SCVP), and are sleep-walking into an abyss. I said as much when I spoke at the conference on Jain Business Ethics in California last year which you can read in this report. I was recently shocked to discover that the beautiful multi-million dollar Antwerp Jain temple does not even have a website welcoming visitors – we are building monuments to ourselves, and closing Mahavir’s legacy.

We need to stop garlanding ourselves and our egos and get real. Only a hundred years ago, our forefathers had the vision and sacrifice to build vital community institutions in East Africa which has brought us where we are today. And we have graduated to tax avoidance, tax evasion and community indifference, and now and again, when our consciences are pricked, we will throw a few pennies with our name and photos of course. It is a fact that most people in employment have no choice about their taxes – they get deducted at source. As a community, we need to get tough on tax avoidance and evasion, and if the rich do not pay their community tax, they should be named and shamed, just like we are doing with HSBC customers today. They should be embarrassed to call themselves Jain.

The cost of inaction is the loss of one of the oldest culture and value systems of our world – the hugely plural and inclusive Jain philosophy, a tradition which thousands of non-Jains are so keen to learn and cherish. I sacrificed my life and career to edit Jain Spirit magazine, and in the process got a sense of what is required in building new institutions and legacies, and really taking our culture to the twenty-first century and beyond. I met a lot of passionate people about Jain culture, young and old, but sadly, there was too little commitment from the well-endowed. It is high time that Jain entrepreneurs and the super-rich woke up to their legacy, and actively pursue institution building. Nothing less will do, as we have so little time on our hands. In America, I have seen large multi-million dollar temples, but very little beyond in terms of cultural education, outreach and social entrepreneurship or transformation. No new vision – same old temple building. And in the meantime, the windfalls from the stock and property markets have kept on swelling.

Outside India, we have learnt a lot about institution building and sustenance. We know how legacies can survive and see plenty of examples – like the Wellcome Foundation, the Open University, Demos Think Tank, Swaminarayan School, the Nishkam Centre headquartered in Birmingham, Sewa International, and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. When are we smart Jains going to rise and build? Who will think beyond pennies and garlands, and give generously and take philanthropic risks like our forefathers?

I hope and pray for our forefathers that we will now take urgent action. I am currently helping Shishukunj with their fund-raising – as it is a charity with a huge track record and a great future, and deserves every iota of support. 

Article added on 28th February 2015 at 10:21am