Philanthropy now part of Diwali festivities in Canada
K’naan talks about cutting out the charity middle man “The concept is the same, but as we become established our thoughts have changed,” Ms. Kataria said of the decision to donate $6,000 worth of Indian sauces and chutneys manufactured by her company, Kataria Foods Inc., to the Bollywood-style event in Mississauga. “We have started to think, we can do this, so why not take this money and give it to a good cause.”
The Oct. 14 event was one of two Diwali hospital charity fundraisers this year in the Toronto area, where about 40 per cent of Canada’s South Asians live. Together they raised $1.8-million for the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga and the University Health Network in Toronto – a significant amount of money by any measure, and a sign, Ms. Kataria said, that Canada’s South Asian community is prospering and adapting its traditions to what many South Asians see as Canadian cultural norms.
For Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness and offers a chance for new beginnings. Festivities usually start a few weeks before Diwali, which changes dates based on the lunar calendar. This year, it is on Oct. 26. South Asians will mark the day by praying to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, setting off fireworks and exchanging small gifts with family and friends.
Although large-scale philanthropic gestures are becoming more common as India’s wealth grows, giving to charity is generally not a part of Diwali celebrations in India.
But philanthropy has recently become a part of the festivities in Canada, said Kasi Rao, an Oakville, Ont., consultant on Canada-Indian business relations. The South Asian diaspora in Canada has grown to about a million people since the first wave of immigration from India in the late 1960s. Although many of the first South Asian immigrants were blue collar workers, recent newcomers are more likely to include members of India’s growing business class, and the children of early immigrants have established themselves and become more prosperous, Mr. Rao said.
“The first generation would not have been able to do this because they were just trying to put food on the table,” he said.
The success of the two hospital fundraisers is also a sign that traditional business donors want to create ties with the South Asian community, particularly as India takes a more prominent role in the global economy, Mr. Rao added. About half those who attended the Mississauga and Toronto events were from outside the South Asian community.
Satish Thakkar, president of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, said that he and his extended family gave up all gift exchanges this year so they could donate money they would once have spent on presents to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and other charities.
The Thakkars gathered at home for traditional prayers on Tuesday evening and will still celebrate Diwali with family and friends on Wednesday. But Mr. Thakkar, a chartered accountant who came to Canada in 1996, said giving up the gift exchange was part of a natural evolution, as the family grows and prospers here.
“Volunteerism and philanthropy are an integral part of the identity of Canada,” he said. “Diwali is a celebration of life, of what basically are the core values of your life, so as a family we said we want to give to charity now.”