Do runs and marathons really serve their purpose? A group of athletes from a polytechnic college in the city have come to the IIT campus to run. They neither seem to know Akash Dube, the person behind the Chennai edition of the Terry Fox run, nor have any idea about why the marathon is being held.

A group of athletes from a polytechnic college in the city have come to the IIT campus to run. They neither seem to know Akash Dube, the person behind the Chennai edition of the Terry Fox run, nor have any idea about why the marathon is being held. But they do know that their trainer has asked them to make use of this opportunity to train for long distance running. Thankfully, others seem to be more aware of what they are running for and hopefully these young men learnt about the cause by the end of the run. But does that make the intentions of others any better?

Thoughtlessness

Charity music concerts, theatre performances, art shows and, of course, marathons are all now a part of the urban lifestyle. It is ‘cool' to be seen in such events — one look at the Facebook profile pictures with people posing next to signboards proclaiming the cause the event is supporting is sufficient to illustrate the point. Not that this is wrong. But this only adds to the insincerity of the bourgeoisie attitude. Work hard, spare a 100 or 200 for charity and then it's party time! It eases the guilt of leading a comfortable life among the poverty-stricken. There is a frightening hollowness to the way we react to such events. There is no denying that these events help a lot of people. But it is our thoughtlessness that robs the goodness from the deed.

This Sunday, as I jogged along with the runners, conversations drifted towards me; about upcoming cultural events, the monsoons and luncheon plans; but hardly any discussion on the theme for the day: cancer awareness.

There are people like R. Vishwanathan who come here with the purpose of sharing and gaining knowledge on cancer and the twogirls who recollected their grandmother's struggle through the disease, as they walked the tracks. Apart from this handful there was scarcely any reflection on the deadly disease.

It isn't comforting to hear a retired Colonel tell me that it is merely a good opportunity for youngsters to start a physical fitness regime. Asked if he didn't think that this was a starting point to get involved in a social issue, he says such reflections can wait till one retires! 3500 is a huge number indeed. But how many of them actually respected and made Akash's efforts worthwhile is anybody's guess.

Nityanand Jayaram, a city-based activist, brings another perspective. “Why charity? Why not rights? Why don't people run for the rights of the disabled or for the rights of children to be educated? Why do the children have to be educated on charity when it is the responsibility of our government and our responsibility to make our governments do it?” he questions. The participants constitute only one side of the problem.

Corporate cash-ins

Three decades ago, when Terry Fox decided to run for a cause, he also made another decision: to shun corporate sponsorships that came with branding and other such conditions. Unfortunately, the widely publicised marathons we see today come with heavy corporate branding. Sadly even the media ends up promoting the organiser rather than the event itself. Have charity marathons become another corporate eyewash in the guise of Corporate Social Responisbility (CSR)? It is important to question the mindless “Greenathons”, claiming to spread environmental awareness, but result in thousands of discarded plastic water bottles in less than an hour!

But what is wrong with an organisation cashing in on the opportunity to promote itself while at the same time contributing to a social cause, especially when even a small dent in a corporation's environmental or social record is widely publicised by the media?

Drawing a decisive line on the means and ends argument comes later. But, first, it's essential to ensure that there is an argument. It is time for us to reflect upon the ideology and intentions behind charity marathons and other charity events; both the organiser's and the participants. A good deed should evolve from a thought process, rather than it being a mere mechanical, guilt-easing gesture.

Janani is a student at the Asian College of Journalism.

Keywords: marathons

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