Hinduism and Microfinance
Arvind Ashta1 Burgundy School of Business [email protected]
Dec 19, 2010 Dec 27, 2010 ABSTRACT Religion is a major institution impacting microfinance. Very little work has been done on Hinduism and microfinance. This work has become imperative in the wake of the triple explosion of microfinance in India: explosion in the sense of growth rates, explosion in the sense of legislative interest, explosion in the sense of indebtedness and suicides. The questions is what are the local customs and what place does religion and history accord to debt and interest rates. This paper shares the limited information available with the author on Hinduism and provides an offbeat Hindu perspective to the case of SKDRDP.
INTRODUCTION: RELIGION AND MICROFINANCE There is significant work being done on religion and economics, although results are disputed. It is suggested that religions influence public and private institutions and that these institutions are then related to economic activity. Some suggest that religions which espouse free market institutions, notably Judaism seem to foster economic growth, while
My thanks to M.K. Ashta, Rajan Kapoor and N.V. Krishna for reading through initial drafts of the paper and their useful comments.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1728384
those that are morally conservative lead to negative relationship with economic growth, notably fundamentalist Protestantism and to a small extent Catholicism (Heath, Waters et al. 1995). This study compared State-wise religious data with economic performance for Jewish, Roma-Catholics, Fundamental Protestants and other (liberal) Protestants. This negative relationship for Catholics and mainline protestants was also found more recently by
Rupasingh & Chilton (Rupasingha and Chilton 2009), but they found it to be more so for Catholics than for mainline protestants. One cross-country study found that in general Christian religions were good for attitudes towards economic growth but that Islam was not (Guiso, Sapienza et al. 2003), while another cross-country study finds that Islam is conducive to economic performance (Noland 2005). Yet another study finds that religious diversity reduces happiness because of conflicts (Mookerjee and Beron 2005). Some studies find a negative bicausal relationship between church attendance and income (Lipford and Tollison 2003; Rupasingha and Chilton 2009). It is argued that church attendance takes away time and stimulation for economic activity since the hereafter is more important and that for the rich there is a huge opportunity cost which keeps them from attending church. As opposed to this, others argue that there is a bicausal positive relationship between religious intensity and economic income, where religious intensity has been measured by frequency of attending a church (Arano and Blair 2008). Their study found that households in lower income groups in Mississipi were less likely to attend church and those in higher income groups were more likely to attend. Higher income influences church attendance and higher church attendance influences income. Thus, there is some evidence that church attendance is a normal good. Perhaps, at low levels of income, the time lost in church
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1728384
attendance is less important than earning income. However, higher level of church participation may allow building social capital necessary for higher income (Arano and Blair 2008). Overall, religious practices usually allow for better attitudes towards economic success, although they may prevent women from participating in society (Guiso, Sapienza et al. 2003). In summary, the positive relationship is because religious people are more ethical, trustworthy, etc, leading to lower monitoring costs and transaction costs and higher income, as well as due to social capital from church attendance. The lower relationship is argued from the deterrent to materialism from religious authorities and from the time taken in going to church. The debate does not provide a clear result, but it would be good if the positive explanations (trust, honesty, social capital) can be developed in a society, especially to aid the poor. Although there is some literature on religion and microfinance (Ashta and De Selva 2010), very little work has been done on Hinduism and Microfinance. Although a first step has been taken in a study of one Microfinance institution having religious roots (Harper, Rao et al. 2008), this study does not go into details of Hinduism and what it prescribes for finance. We will therefore briefly review some of the ancient Hindu and Indian scripts to see the treatment of finance in those texts. We will then use the Harper et al (2008) case study of SKDRDP to see possible religious connotations. Wherever we can, we contextualise the discussion.
BACKGROUND TO HINDUISM
Hinduism is a pantheistic religion, one of the oldest religions. Pantheism is the belief that God is everything and everything is God. Hinduism is not the only pantheistic religion. In India, three offshoots of Hinduism that are now considered separate religions are Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The former two date to the sixth century BC, while the latter is fairly recent. Hinduism is pantheistic as well as polytheistic. Polytheism is the belief in many Gods. Very briefly, there is a Central God (Brahaman) who is then divided into a trinity of creation, preservation and destruction (played respectively by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Each of the last two went down to Earth in reincarnations to defeat evil. Other than that, for each quality, there is one God. Everyone can then turn to a god that suits him. God has infinite qualities and each infinite in quantity. If we take any quality and follow through, we arrive at the infinity that is God. To understand abstract god, the central God, is not easy even for the intellectual. So for most of humanity, we need symbols. This role is provided by the multitude of Gods. Even atheism, a belief in the absence of God, is accepted in Hinduism. The scriptures of Hinduism consist of what God said (the shrutis, like the Vedas and the Puranas) and what Man remembered (the Smritis). The latter is what Manu recalled following the deluge, about 3000 years before Christ. So there was something before the flood. The Vedas are considered to have always been there, and could be regarded as the divine authorisation of laws and customs, a constitution, put in writing between 2000 and 1400 BC, that binds people (or the willingness of people together is the will of God). One major treatise on Hinduism is called the Bhagavad Gita which is found in one of the two
great epics of Hinduism, the Mahabharat (the other one is Ramayana). It is considered that the Bhagwad Gita summarizes the essence of Hindu philosophy found in the Vedas. The Vedas are distinct from what Manu remembered, and which is called the Manusmriti, that is written/transcribed later and is more like laws that respect their epoch. Manusmriti codes were probably written between 1400 and 200 BC, though some experts may provide a later date (Bhattacharyya 1996). Although there are other codes or laws of other law givers, that of Manu is the most well-know. In Ancient India, there was another major treatise which is not religious per se, but is also an import work in Political Economy called the Arthashastra, written by Chanakya Kautilya, the Prime Minister of Chandra Gupta Maurya, sometime between 150 BC and 150 AD (Rangarajan 1992). However, in India, religion is intertwined with everything. All is God and God is all. In this paper, unless otherwise stated, when we refer to Manusmriti, we are referring to information on this work contained in the translation by Bûhler (Bühler (translated 1886))2, when we refer to Arthashastra, we are referring to Rangarajan (1992).
MONEY AND WEALTH
According to the Arthashastra, there are four qualities that predominate. These are Moksh (Salvation), Dharma (Ethics,) Artha (Money) and Kama (Pleasure). These four qualities are also enshrined in Vedic tradition (Sharma 2005). So money is one of the four most important qualities. Plus, it is embodied by the goddess Lakshmi. The importance of money in Hinduism
The translated work is available online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/manu.htm
is reinforced by the place assigned to Lakshmi, who is the wife of Vishnu, the God of Preservation. So it is money that makes the world go round! Lakshmi is worshiped mostly by traders. And girls, who are a source of concern for the dowry, are considered Lakshmi for the family that will welcome them with their dowry. Divali, one of the greatest festivals of Hinduism, reveres Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu. But on this day prayers are offered to Lakshmi. Hindu traders begin their new year at Diwali, after offering prayers to Lakshimi. Perhaps no other religion in the world venerates money.
DEBT Two pages of the Manusmriti provide details of interest rates and recovery. However, a whole section 8.7 of the Arthashastra treats loans, depostis, pledges, mortages etc. (Rangarajan 1992, pp 422-430), of which the last two pages are for pubishments. Loans are treated on pages 425-426, but the general provisions are also applicable to them. The general provisions indicate who can sue for recovery, the obligations of debtors and creditors and their heirs and successors, sureties, limitations and the case of multiple creditors.
The three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) all have, or have had at some point in their history, a prohibition of interest rates (Mews and Abraham 2007). As
opposed to this, Hinduism allows interest rates: even rates considered excessive today. The rates seem to depend on the epoch. Chapter VIII of The Manu Smriti (Bühler (translated 1886))interests us
140. A money-lender may stipulate as an increase of his capital, for the interest, allowed by Vasishtha, and take monthly the eightieth part of a hundred. 141. Or, remembering the duty of good men, he may take two in the hundred (by the month), for he who takes two in the hundred becomes not a sinner for gain. 142. Just two in the hundred, three, four, and five (and not more), he may take as monthly interest according to the order of the castes (varna).
Thus, article 140 would indicate that a normal interest rate of 1.25% per month is allowed or 15% per year. However, article 141 seems to allow even 2% per month or 24% per year. Finally, article 142 permits monthly interest on debt at the rate of two, three, four or five per cent according to the order of the castes" (Bhattacharyya 1996, p. 181). That makes 24, 36, 48 and 60% a year, long before Jesus Christ. Some centuries later, Kautalya's Arthashastra, considers "the lawful rates of interest for different purposes shall be: normal transaction 1.25% per month (15% per year)3; normal commercial transaction 5% per month (60% per year); commercial travel with risky travel through forests 10% per month (120% p.a.); commercial transactions with risky travel by sea 20% per month (240% p.a.)" (Rangarajan 1992, p. 426). Even higher rates were possible in regions where the King could not afford protection: "No one shall charge or cause to be charged a rate higher than the above, except in regions where the Kind is unable to guarantee security; in such a case, the judges wshall take intoaccount the customary practices among debtors and creditors" (Rangarajan 1992, p. 426).
Note the similarity with VIII,140 of Manu cited above
Thus, we see that the notion of risk and return were present in India as early as Kautalya, at the latest by 150 A.D. Obviously, what was tolerated at the time is not necessarily what is tolerated today because religion has evolved, the economy has been transformed, the nature of risk has changed. So the Mexican MFI, Compartamos, which has been highlighted in the Microfinance press for its high interest rates of 86% without VAT and 99% with VAT (Ashta and Bush 2009), is within Hindu norms. And if we look at Manu (Chapter VIII), further
151. In money transactions interest paid at one time (not by instalments) shall never exceed the double (of the principal); on grain, fruit, wool or hair, (and) beasts of burden it must not be more than five times (the original amount).
Thus if interest is paid in one installment, two hundred percent seems to be allowed. Five hundred percent is also allowed for advances on certain items. The rates allowed in the Arthashastra seem to be much lower: For grains and for commodity stocks, the interest is limited to 50%. For grains is is 50% for the crop season. For commodity stocks it is 50% per year (Rangarajan 1992, p. 426). However, the usurious ceiling in the Manusmriti seems to remain at 60% per year because it is asserted that anything higer is not recoverable.
152. Stipulated interest beyond the legal rate, being against (the law), cannot be recovered; they call that a usurious way (of lending); (the lender) is (in no case) entitled to (more than) five in the hundred.
In the Manusmriti, article 143 above
143. But if a beneficial pledge (i.e. one from which profit accrues, has been given), he shall receive no interest on the loan; nor can he, after keeping (such) a pledge for a very long time, give or sell it.
This indicates that in a pledge in which profit accrues no extra interest is taken. Note here the similarity with Islamic finance which allows profit-sharing but not interest. Interest on interest was not allowed. This is indicated in both the Manusmriti and in the Arthashastra. Chapter VIII of the Manusmriti indcates
153. Let him not take interest beyond the year, nor such as is unapproved, nor compound interest, periodical interest, stipulated interest, and corporal interest. 154. He who, unable to pay a debt (at the fixed time), wishes to make a new contract, may renew the agreement, after paying the interest which is due. 155. If he cannot pay the money (due as interest), he may insert it in the renewed (agreement); he must pay as much interest as may be due.
In the Arthashastra too, interest on unpaid interest was not recoverable: " no one shall claim as principal the original loan with the accumulated interest added to it" (Rangarajan 1992, p. 425). Moreover, Interest rate has to be determined at the time of making a loan. Once interest rate is fixed for a loan, it cannot be changed (Rangarajan 1992, p. 425).
We see that the moneylenders who demand 30% to 240% per year (more where there is no protection from the king) could be tolerated because they provide special services, emergencies, lend small amounts, with no formality. So in the Hindu world, there is a place for the usurer, for MFIs and banks. The recent ordinance passed by the Andhra Pradesh governor (October 2010) restricting interest to the amount of the principal (ie. 100%) therefore finds some kind of religious context.
RECOVERY OF DEBT
The essential problem in Microfinance is to ensure that the borrower pays back. If he does not do so, enforcement is a problem. The question that is being debated in the wake of suicides by debtors, is how to recover debt. Chapter VIII of the Manusmriti (Bühler (translated 1886)) indicates:
47. When a creditor sues (before the king) for the recovery of money from a debtor, let him make the debtor pay the sum which the creditor proves (to be due). 48. By whatever means a creditor may be able to obtain possession of his property, even by those means may he force the debtor and make him pay. 49. By moral suasion, by suit of law, by artful management, or by the customary proceeding, a creditor may recover property lent; and fifthly, by force. 50. A creditor who himself recovers his property from his debtor, must not be blamed by the king for retaking what is his own. 51. But him who denies a debt which is proved by good evidence, he shall order to pay that debt to the creditor and a small fine according to his circumstances.
Thus, article 47 requires that the king has to make the debtor repay his debt. Article 47 is clearly in favour of creditors: the creditor is allowed to use all means to recover his debt. Article 49 indicates that there are five means of recovery. These are translated slightly different ly y Bhattacharya: "dharma (persuasion), vyavahara (legal proceeding), cala or upadhi (trick), carita (sitting down at his door) and bala (compulsion to do the work or confinnement)."(Bhattacharyya 1996, p. 181). Moreover, article 50 indicates that the king is on the side of the creditor who takes back what was rightfully his due. If liability is not admitted by the debtor, then the only method is to file suit for the recovery of the debt. In view of the above, the Andhra Pradesh ordinance, which does not allow harassment, or following a person to his house, or any other harassment seems to go against recognised wisdom of the Ancient texts which even allows trickery to get back the money.
Manu (Chpater VIII)also states that if a debtor is unable to pay his debts, then he should be made to do work suitable for his caste in the house of his creditor in order to gradually liquidate his debt.
177. Even by (personal) labour shall the debtor make good (what he owes) to his creditor, if he be of the same caste or of a lower one; but a (debtor) of a higher caste shall pay it gradually (when he earns something).
Thus bonded labour in return for paying his debt, is authorised from the ancient Indian texts. The moneylender was an accepted institution. Once again, higher castes were privileged.
HINDUISM AND BUSINESS In Hinduism, business is part of religion. There is a separate caste devoted to trade. There is a special ceremony to start the projects, where a priest comes to bless the project. There is a ceremony to close the accounts of a project, and a priest comes to do so. There is a ceremony for commercial matters and civil matters. So religion and trade are closely linked. The notion of profit has also been treated in Hinduism. There is a concept of 'Shubh Labh' or Auspicious Profit. The idea of profit under Hinduism seems to suggest that if it brings mutual benefit to both parties, then it is 'shubh' or auspicious. According to Sharma (Sharma 2005), it is profit based on an ethical approach to business. A related concept from Sikhism propounded by Guru Nanak enjoins on followers 'Kirat karo, vand chhako, naam japo', roughly translating to 'work hard through remembrance of God,
share your honestly earned good fortune with those less fortunate, and meditate on God
(Ahluwalia undated). This is similar to the Yoga of action where we do our work but leave the
results to God. All castes are allowed to trade, but some activities were reserved for the merchant class in Manu's epoch. As an example, only merchants had the exclusivity to trade in slaves.
Today of course, all castes work together in professional life, especially in cities. But positive discrimination vis-à-vis the lower castes and outcasts, did resurface the concept of caste.
A HINDU PERSPECTIVE ON DEVELOPMENT, DIVINITY AND DHARMA
The book on Development, Divinity and Dharma (Harper, Rao et al. 2008) is enjoyable and informative. It is written in a simple descriptive style, avoiding value judgments and limiting theoretical conceptualization. I would recommend it for reading to students, consultants in microfinance as well as practitioners, for the large number of case studies presented, whether anecdotal or covering multiple chapters. However, in this paper, I look more at it more as a basis for introducing Hinduism in context. The authors examine a number of faith based institutions, including a number of other Christian and Hindu institutions in South Asia and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the central theme of the book remains a long case study (chapters 3 to 10) on SKDRDP. SKDRDP is a rural development program started by a Hindu Temple administered by a Jain trustee, Dr. Heggade. The program offers an integrated rural development perspective, including microfinance, to help solve the poverty problem. The other chapters are benchmarking
chapters to better appreciate the SKDRDP model. The large number of chapters on SKDRDP may justify the use of "Dharma" in the title since Hinduism is, according to the authors, one of the three Dharmaic faiths (p 1), the others being Jainism and Buddhism (they also include Sikhism on p. 118). The first chapter on religion and development summarizes in one place many different academic questions relating to the role of religion, religious institutions and religious practices to development through the dissemination of not only spiritual capital but also social capital and human capital. This could be a useful start for academic research. Chapter 2 looks at financing and operating costs of faith based institutions as compared to secular institutions and provides a refreshingly original background to the importance of discussing the role of a Hindu secular organization for the next eight chapters. Chapters 3 to 9 provide the role of religion in development and microfinance institutions (MFIs) through a case study of SKDRDP. SKDRDP is one of ten major microfinance institutions in India with 200,000 customers. Among the ten large Indian MFIs, eight are for-profit, but SKDRDP is one of the two non-profit MFIs. The normal rate in microcredit in India is about 24% per year, but SKDRDP charges interest of only 12.5% per year. The leader of Hindu worship in a certain area of Karnataka State, for the last six centuries, comes from a family of Jain priests. The current leader decided to do more than help his flock through religion and is dedicated to improving their material life. So on the hill where the temple is located, he began to provide loans and at the same time advised his people on how to improve the productivity of their land. Because they had faith in him and the temple, people took loans, heeded his advice and paid off their loans. Because they pay back,
interest rates are reasonable. Gradually, the temple's economic influence has gone to villages further away. So trust and faith could help microfinance. Chapters 11 and 12 discuss Islamic institutions and Christian institutions respectively. Although each of them includes two case studies, these are not detailed to the extent of the eight chapters devoted to SKDRDP. Since there is a lot of previous work on Christianity and microfinance and Islamic finance, and very little on Hinduism and Microfinance, the authors chose to focus on the latter as the Unique Selling Proposition of the book and this is understandable. When the reading is being complicated by such use of Sanskrit based words such as sevanirithans, instead of calling them field agents or development officers, perhaps other means could be used to ease the reader's understanding. A few graphs of flow charts could have helped. The formulation of such charts could have also confronted the authors and readers with different perspectives on the role of SKDRDP within Hindusim. We will illustrate this using the information contained in this book to offer insights into Hinduism. For example, a supply and value chain chart could show that the SKDRDP is the both the supplier and the distributor with the local entrepreneur in between as the central figure. Moreover, SKDRDP also provides financing and technical services to the entrepreneur. A larger background figure to all this could show that the temple creates the trust which obliges the microentrepreneur to repay and also which allows him to trust the NGO to give him the right advice.
Thanks to this figure, the omnipresent role of SKDRDP in the supply chain and value chain makes one think of a few lines in the Bhagavad Gita.
"Brahman is the ritual, Brahman in the offering, Brahman is he who offers To the fire that is Brahman. If a man sees Brahman In every action, He will find Brahman"
This can be compared with the following
SKDRDP organizes the entrepreneur SKDRDP organizes the financing SKDRDP provides the material SKDRDP does the marketing If the entrepreneur needs SKDRDP In every action He is dependent on SKDRDP
Therefore, this observation could then be manipulated to the flowing perspective with SKDRDP in the centre, as illustrated in figure 2. In this perspective SKDRDP is a business venture like any other, except that it is formulated as an NGO. Instead of using salaried staff to transform the material, it uses outside processing (and hence variable costs) which can then shift the business risk. To its outside processors, it supplies the material as well as financing so that they can buy appropriate tools. It also provides them loans for social and consumption purposes in times of need, just as a paternalist businessman would do for his employees, rather than giving them a salary raise.
Thus, instead of promoting the independence of the microentrepreneur who is at the centre of Figure 1, an alternate perspective would indicate that the faith based institution is at the center (Figure 2) and is making the microentrpreneur dependent on itself and is indeed playing God. Of course, if such dependence improves the welfare of the individual, it could be considered a rational dependence.
Hinduism is not only pantheist; it also is subject to diverse interpretations. According to the authors (Harper, Rao et al. 2008), perfection is achieved in Hinduism by passive withdrawal, not by active intervention (p.118). They go on to say that a more positive interpretation is
possible based on the notion of 'karma' and reincarnation is that one attains virtue by generosity and sacrifice. This view that passivity is preferred to activity goes against the views expressed in the Bhagavad Gita (Prabhavananda and Isherwood 1958). First, it must be mentioned that the Bhagavad Gita mentions various paths to the ultimate: the Yoga of Knowledge, the Yoga of Action, the Yoga of Devotion, the Yoga of Renunciation, the Yoga of meditation, the Yoga of Mysticism and the Yoga of Devotion. All of these lead to Brahman. Within the Yoga of action, Lord Krishna states
"Action rightly performed brings freedom Action rightly renounced brings freedom Freedom from action is not brought by merely refraining from action."
Therefore, Hinduism cannot be considered passive. If Hindus in India work less, it may be due to heat or dust or other reasons, but not because of religion. Hindus in the US seem to be doing as well as people from other religions. In fact, what would happen if everyone stops working? What would happen if God were to stop working? What should motivate action: In fact , according to the Bhagavad Gita, the wise have to work to "show by example, how work is holy when the heart of the worker is fixed on the Highest". Then again, the yoga of renunciation states that for Seers, "their every action is wed to the welfare of fellow-creatures".
Judging by the preceding, Mr. Heggade is merely carrying out the spiritual injunctions of the Gita, which is his duty as the religious head of a Hindu temple. Therefore, he and his wife are continuously working in order to 'point man's feet to the path of his duty". In such a case, since "the ignorant work for the fruit of their action", it is necessary for SKDRDP to create the institutions (central purchase, common marketing), to ensure that the
microentrepreneurs get some fruits from their action so that they can continue their duty of feeding their own families through their action rather than squandering their efforts on alcohol. This perspective then brings us back to Figure 1, except that the entire figure is being used by Mr. Heggade to stimulate the poor people to work and gain a living, even at the expense of dependency on SKDRDP. We conclude through the use of this book example, that a case study can be intertwined more deeply with Hindu religion than a reference to Dharma in the title.
Monotheistic religions have one God and do not worship the material. Hinduism, a pantheist and polytheist religion, reveres money as it does any other quality, but notably in the same league as salvation, ethics and pleasure. Moreover, unlike the monotheist religions, it permits interest rates which take into account the risk factor. Therefore, few studies comparing religions in microfinance should ignore the diversity allowed in Hinduism.
NOTE ON LIMITATIONS
In such a polytheist religion, everything is acceptable. The problem is that it is possible to select specific aspects of Hinduism to support specific arguments, since there is no universally accepted set of beliefs which actually constitute Hinduism. This is an initial draft of this paper: Both the Manusmriti and the Arthashastra have many other relationships with lending practices, and of course there are many other texts. However, till we develop this further, researchers can go directly to the cited references.
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