IF I DON’T, THEN WHO WILL?

In this world that is constantly trying to make us believe in all the wrong, it’s very difficult to put our head up high and do what we actually feel is right.

But, if I am just following what everyone else is doing even though they are doing something wrong, then probably I am just a faceless body amongst these masses.

Every other person wants to feel accepted or is trying to fit-in either in their college, office or any other social gathering and I’m also one among them. But as a person, I will not compromise on my values and ethics just to appease somebody or for the fear of being left out. What is the point of being in a democracy and being privileged enough to have umpteen rights to express myself freely when all I  do is be a sheep in the mob?

There’s one particular incident that I’d like to share, where a worker at our place had decided to get her daughter married right after her 12th. She wanted to study more and he was unwilling to do so. I stood by her and explained the worker that he should let her study. He wasn’t ready to listen. I had to literally threaten him saying I’ll approach the police if he doesn’t let her study. My parents also involved and supported me to help him understand this. Fortunately, he understood this though out of pressure but now his daughter is studying happily and fulfilling her dreams.

There was this other incident, it’s not something major but it’s important to get through these little situations too. So, during my undergraduate, there was a senior who was the head of our batch. There were some registrations going on in the college and there was a huge queue. My friend and I just cut through the line only to inquire about how long the process would take before we could utter anything, the head senior held my friend’s hand and pushed her away. That led to an injury on her hand. The teacher who was doing the registration had witnessed all of this but still did not choose to take any action and asked me to leave. I told her about the injury and how the senior ill-treated us, she ended the discussion by saying maybe it was because she is frustrated with work. It was not the first time that the senior had done something like this, she had indulged in a lot of unnecessary fights earlier too and as usual, they were ignored. If I wouldn’t do anything now, it would have continued forever. I approached the principal the very next day and made sure she realised her mistakes. I didn’t want her to be punished but she should at least realise her faults and not unnecessarily manhandle somebody.

It is not always easy to voice yourself and fight for what is right. There are situations when I doubt my own decisions when insecurities creep in and I become unsure of whether I am doing the right thing or not. In these moments, I think of the reasons I started fighting for it in the first place. At times I feel like everything might just fall apart and maybe I should stop doing what I am doing but I know if I don’t stand firmly by my own decision, no one will.

There’s this one quote I read somewhere that had hit me hard and gave me all the courage I hold today;

“Stand up to hypocrisy. If you don’t, the hypocrites will teach. Stand up to ignorance, because if you don’t, the ignorant will run free to spread ignorance like a disease. Stand up for truth. If you don’t, then there is no truth to your existence. If you don’t stand up for all that is right, then understand that you are part of the reason why there is so much wrong in the world.”

If you don’t, then who will?

Quote of the day

We must empower ourselves to detonate the corruption and injustice for ourselves as well as for the people around us…

THE ADULTERATION OF VALUES

Sugar was found mixed with fine plastic crystals that naked eye can’t see. However, if sugar with crystals is added to cold water, it will not dissolve and settle at the surface of the container. If this test is done with milk or tea, the result may not be conclusive as even adulterated sugar gets dissolved.

White chilli powder is dyed with ‘sudan red‘, an artificial dye to turn it into an expensive red chilli powder. Whole red chillies are adulterated with coal tar to enhance their appearance.

Adding glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, invert sugar, flour, corn syrup, starch, or any other similar product, other than floral nectar to honey, adulterates it.

Adulterated milk is what we end up drinking these days. Other contaminants like urea, starch, glucose, formalin along with detergent are used as adulterants. These adulterants are used to increase the thickness and viscosity of the milk as well as to preserve it for a longer period.

When we hear the term ‘adulteration’, the imagery that immediately appears before us is that of adulterated food products. The word ‘adulteration’ comes from the Latin word adulterare which means corrupt. More than any other thing, the word ‘adulteration’ aptly applies to a degradation/corruption of value systems.

Civilizations have become advanced. Technological know-how is on the rise. Awareness levels have increased. Independence has increased. Economy has shot up. But, the latitude of acceptance has come down. Tolerance levels have plummeted. Conditions have taken the place of trust. Virtual relationships have taken the place of real-world relationships. With dysfunctional and single-parent families on the rise, the definition of family is gradually getting skewed. Lust has replaced love. Corruption has become a part of life – shell out money and your work is easily done without delay.

A group of teenagers came to me with the question, “Do values and integrity matter in this day and age?” I paused for some time before answering them, thinking that we are living in times where the very existence of values and integrity is being questioned! The information explosion at the click of a mouse, the lure of reaching heights of accomplishments, settling for mediocrity in place of excellence with a ‘chalta hai’ attitude has diluted the desire to conform to existing values.

We are living at times where a substitute can be found for almost everything. Live-in relationships as substitutes for families, internet games in place of the sweat and laughter of playing on playgrounds, extra-matrital relationships in place of the warmth of one’s own spouse – you think of it and you can list the gross adulteration.

Not that such things never ever happened previously. While the rarity of such occurrences in the past made people startle, the rarity of such incidents not occurring today, makes one marvel.

No matter how powerful the pull of the world may be, if our equation with the Almighty is strong, the likelihood of getting sucked into this whirlwind of adulterated values will be lesser. Yes, we may end up being victims to it all for the stand we take, but our conscience would remain clear of not victimizing anyone or ourselves of such dilution.

CORRUPTIBLE POWER

We’ve all heard Lord Acton’s oft repeated quote –

‘All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely’

Power is a tricky thing. We all covet it, yet very few of us know how to wield it and not let it get to our heads. How often have you come across examples of people in positions of power abusing their offices and exerting their influence when they should not? How many times have you come across a situation when you have exerted your power over someone inferior to you in some way, because you felt you had the power so you could do it?

Power is a word that has both positive and negative connotations. When it is exerted for a larger benefit, it becomes a tool for victory, like in the case of the public exerting it’s power over a government for certain reforms. Yet when the same government exerts its power to crush and demoralize the public, it becomes a tool for oppression. It’s in such instances when exerting your power wrongly and unfairly becomes a sin.

Consider these instances from everyday lives –

  • A boss exerting his power over his employees to push them into working harder or longer.
  • A teacher punishing her students for misbehaving.
  • A parent forcing a child to do their bidding.
  • A police officer exerting his power over a prisoner.
  • The owner of a gun threatening an intruder.

Some of you may say that exertion of power in such instances is justified. Aye, it is. But there is a very thin line between justified use and power abuse. In all of the above instances, one unwarranted step could lead to abuse of power.

But I won’t just give you random examples of how exertion of power in the wrong instances is a sin, I’ll give you an example from my own life.

I must have been 11-12 when this happened. My Grandmother owned a building where she used to rent out rooms. In one such room stayed a family of two boys, and their parents. The older boy was a couple of years older than me. He was an absolute tyrant and bully. He would go around the village terrorizing children of my age, beating them up, or calling them names or using them for catapult practice. I hated him because he used to pull my hair and call me ‘Pootna‘ (a mythological demon in India).

But I hated him most because he killed a bird with his catapult just to prove to me that his aim did not suck! And the worst part of it was, I goaded him into doing that because I wanted to prove him a failure. That incident is seared in my memory. I don’t know if the boy had any guilt over the sparrow’s death, but I did, heaps of it. And possibly that was why I was horribly sick for a few days afterwards.

But no sooner had I recovered than he was at it again, calling me names, making faces at me. My guilt and the anger I had for him was mounting. My 11 year old pride was taking a beating and I did not like any of it.

So while he was playing in my grandmother’s courtyard, I let loose my Alsatian dog on him. The dog bit into his forearm and left several painful scratches. It let go only when I told the dog to stop. I still remember feeling all mighty and powerful at the time. But when his parents came to take him to the doctor, that’s when it dawned on me that I had wronged him. His parents did not say a word to me, but the look on their faces told me just how unfair I had been. They could not have said anything to me because I was a child, and also because they were tenants of my grandmother and respected her. But now I find it reprehensible that I misused this bit of knowledge and my ferocious dog, to exert my power over someone, even if he was a tyrant and a bully.

This incident taught me that I abused the power I had, whatever little I had of it. It taught me that one could go quickly from using their power for good, to using it for being a bully. And that’s when it becomes a sin.

When a person gains power over others in some way, it is obvious that the subordinates will be in a disadvantageous position. It is also obvious that with the gain of power, a moral weakness develops in the power wielder, where they tend to veer towards using their power for personal benefits or self-aggrandisement. It manifests not just in the human realm, but in the animal realm as well. Like when the leader of a pride of lions exerts his authority over the females and the cubs in the pride. But this is when a power wielder must understand that they must maintain a balance between rightful use and abuse of power. Most positions of power occur over monetary reasons or in positions of trust. An abuse of power in such situations is not just a sin, it also breaks the faith of the subordinates who look to the power wielder for support, guidance and leadership.

This is also when the subordinates must realize that they have power over a power wielder. We must always have a foolproof system of checks and balances where any abuse of power brings serious repercussions for a leader. Most authority figures tend to keep misusing their positions because there is no check on their abuse of power. This is where the power of the masses comes into the picture, and the masses should not condone an unwarranted abuse of power. At some point, the sheep must turn on the wolf masquerading as their shepherd.

We all have relationships in our lives where we may be in an authoritative position over others. A parent, a father or mother in law, an older brother or sister, a boss, an employer, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a politician. There’s no end to such positions where one can wield power… and abuse it.

An authority figure must remember why he’s in power –

  • Because of the faith and trust reposed in him.
  • Because people look to him for leadership
  • Because he has the responsibility of protecting or providing for a group of persons

Breaking the trust of your followers and subordinates takes seconds, but good-will takes an age to earn, and regaining broken trust, takes even longer.

I think this quote from the Bible sums up what we must all remember when we exert our power, for good or bad:

1 Peter 5:2-3

“Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”

 

Pradita Kapahi, 2017

 

THE DREAM OF A FREE CITIZEN

The dream to tread on the free soil of their beloved motherland was a dream left unfulfilled for the countless named and unnamed martyrs of India’s freedom struggle. Long nights of intensive strategising, violent and non-violent protests, famous slogans like ‘Go back Simon’, ‘Quit India’, ‘Give me blood and I will give you freedom’, boycotts and satyagrahas, non-cooperation movements and Round Table Conferences finally gave way to the jubilation of independence. The epic speech of the first Prime Minister of independent India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in the Parliament on the eve of India’s independence towards midnight, as the hour hand and the minute hand shook hands to welcome 15th August, 1947 began thus –

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…..”

What a joyous moment it would have been for those involved in the freedom struggle to breathe the air of their free motherland!!

Today, as we celebrate the 71st Independence Day, we have indeed come a long way. The freedom to emphatically run across the length and breadth of this independent nation with one’s head held high has been long realised. The freedom to own property, the freedom to sow and to reap, the freedom to manufacture, the freedom to buy and sell – has put India among the mighty nations of the world.

From a shattered economy, today India finds its name resounding along with the topic economies of the world. From widespread illiteracy to a decent 74.04% (as in 2016) of literacy of a diverse population amidst various stigmas to education, is no less a feat. The development from crippled industries and roadways to world-class industrial establishments and posh highways, is yet another achievement worth celebrating. From the years of famine and agricultural disappointments to the era of Genetic Engineering and numerous Food Revolutions, the progress sure deserves applause. Speak of Science and Technology we have the likes of Mangalyaan and the Chandrayaan to boast of.

The India echoed in the national song is truly an India witnessed today by the present generations – ‘Sujalam suphalam malayaja sheetalam Shasyashyamalam’

“Yet the turning point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the east, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes.” – said Pt. Nehru in his speech to the nation seven decades ago. 

As the star of freedom rose, Indians celebrated the independence from foreign rule. No longer were they subjects under Dominion rule. No longer were their wings clipped down. No longer were sons and daughters required to be martyrs. It was the time of self-rule. With their loins girded, the intellectual think-tanks set to give to Indians the exclusive rights of citizenship. The new found freedom was indeed a prized possession earned with much sweat and blood.

“May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed by.” – remarked Jawaharlal Nehru in his address to the nation that significant night. 

The India of today, is a great example of unity in diversity. Diverse languages, religions and ethnicities have made India what it is.

But, the heart sinks as one witnesses the numerous threats to this hard-earned freedom!

The freedom that was reaped by a largely non-violent struggle is subject to vagaries of untold violence in the names of caste, sex, religion and ethnicity. The freedom of speech and expression provisioned by the Constitution has started being stifled to the extent of being silenced forever. The freedom to ‘profess, practice and preach’ the religion of one’s choice is being brought under the hammer with a heavy hand.

The unique blend that makes up India is under the threat of distortion in the pretext of Indianisation.

Social, economic and scientific development never happens overnight, and India is marching ahead in all these aspects. The future is indeed prosperous for this nation. No doubt about it!

But, what about the soul of India?

“We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.” said Nehru in his speech that night.

However, as the days go by it seems that the torch of freedom is on its way to being blown out – this time not by foreign rule, but by self-rule. The fetters that bind and the guns that shoot, the hatred that boils the blood and claims the lives of innocents, the hands that discriminate and strangle the underprivileged – belong to the high and mighty fellow citizens.

Was it for this type of a free nation that precious lives were sacrificed years ago? Where are the lofty ideals of:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation

We have so developed a ‘chalta hai’ attitude for everything that happens around us that misgivings don’t seem to be misgivings any more. Corruption? It happens every where! Domestic violence? What’s new in that! Hatred for neighbouring countries? That’s how it has always been! Dominance of the upper caste? That’s the societal norm!

The soul screams – ‘When will man respect man as man?’

Till we have fixated identities of sex, caste, religion, ethnicity, language and economic status of the people living around us, our perception will never be free. The shackles of intolerance, ignorance and apathy need to be broken down so as to be replaced with tolerance, awareness and compassion.

Not that these fetters are unique to free India alone, but the heart-cry of an emancipated soul is to see one’s nation soar high and high way – above the rest – to see the tricolour fluttering high in the breezy sky. As Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore penned –

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Yes, into that heaven of freedom, let India awake.

Jai Hind.

 

 

 

HAVING THE RIGHT APPROACH ALONG WITH PATIENCE WOULD LEAD TO JUSTICE

My husband expired two years ago. I was 5 months pregnant when he met with an accident. My in-laws never allowed me to even meet my parents during pregnancy, I delivered a baby boy. I am not allowed to see him, I want my son” said Dipali with tears rolling down her eyes….

Dipali works as a teacher in the government school, her in-laws don’t seem to agree that Dipali has a right to have the child or live along with them. Listening to this Natasha grew angry, without out much of a control on herself she said “Aren’t you educated? Why didn’t you approach police to lodge a compliant against them?”. I had to hold her hand to calm her down before she says something that may deeply hurt Dipali …

It was heart wrenching to hear to her problem, I was lost in thoughts. Natasha suddenly stopped the car, asked me if I wanted to have a coffee. I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk to her before we return, I nodded my head in agreement.

Natasha is my co-volunteer in the volunteer group I work for. She is a writer by profession. We went to meet Dipali based on a concern she raised with our volunteer organisation. She needed help in understanding the judiciary system, how to seek for good lawyers, how long does it take etc before she could progress with the legal formalities.

As we were waiting for our coffees, I asked Natasha about her new book. With a happy tone, she said, “over hundred copies are sold, people seem to have liked it”. 

Cool dear, good to know… A book is never judged by it’s cover. It is immaterial how many people looked at it, what is important is how many people read it, liked it, could relate to it. You cannot judge another person by what she is told you, try to relate to her and the problem. Have little patience when you hear about other’s problems, because what we have got to know today is an introduction, as we dwell more on the issue, lot of bitter truth’s would surface” Being a writer, Natasha easily understood what I was talking about…

Dipali would have also shared her story to many people, already many would have judged her, called her by names. She might have sought help in various ways before she turned to us. Many would have suggested her not to go against her in-laws in the court. As a mother, she is emotionally affected as she is not allowed to see her son, talk to him, see him growing. This has resulted in a lot of frustration in her and may have led to an increased fear of losing her son…

There is a problem before us, we have an option to do two things about it, acknowledge there is a problem, act on it or forget it. Unfortunately, there are many people who debate whether to even acknowledge or not. Depending on the country, province, type of problem, situations around it, magnitude of the problem, justice takes various forms. The definition itself changes at times, but it is very important to act, because it is only actions that can bring a change. 

What Natasha was not aware of was a simple fact, even if Dipali would have approached police, it is rarity that police would file an FIR. Police have their own reasons to not file an FIR and when we listen to them, that as well sounds reasonable at times because, there are people who want to use the judiciary system for the hideous benefits.  

Laws have been made many years ago, underwent reforms many times but there is still injustice that exists. On top it, protectors of law have become perpetrators. Common man is struggling because of all these. We crib, we complain, we give up, but if we give it a thought there is always our little bit that we can do.

Dipali needed a lawyer who does not charge her a hefty fees for the case. We approached many lawyers, finally got to know about a group who handle cases for a nominal fee. Dipali could afford the money he charged, her first concern is addressed. We cannot trust every lawyer, there are bad lawyers too, be cautious.

Second, the process of dealing with courts is very stressful. It looks simple from outside, but facing the court, handling the questions of lawyers, the documentation process, all of it takes a lot of time and energy. Often one has to roam around many government organisations to get relevant proofs to be submitted to court. One of our volunteers would be with Dipali when she needs help. 

The case is still pending in the court… It may take few more months before Dipali can get custody of her son, hopefully.  She is financially independent, hence the courts would consider this aspect as the strong point.

When you come across a problem, don’t just react. Identify the issue, understand the deeper details, possible causes, ripple effects, list down probable solutions. Weigh each solution against the other, select the appropriate option, act on it. Be the helping hand to the victim. Justice is hard to attain but not impossible.

The road to justice is rough, expect delays, disappointments, be prepared with your contingency plans. We may not be the pioneer of change, but can be a part of it… There is light on the other end of the tunnel, we may not be able to see it now, but when it does it gives us ultimate satisfaction to have spent our energy on the problem.

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.

-Haile Selassie

THE MISSING GAP IN THE IDEA OF JUSTICE

Justice is the utmost need for the survival of anything. There was a need of justice in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned and there will also be the need of justice when every human being will face the throne of God after death. On the D.O.B. man pleads for justice to get his identity and on the D.O.D. man also pleads for justice to pass-on his heritage. We need justice in the courts, we need justice in families, we need justice on football grounds, we even need justice to buy a candy from a candy-store – we need justice everywhere!

But WHAT does JUSTICE Mean?

By definition justice is, ‘the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action, the conformity to the principle or ideal’.

A couple of week back I went to the New Market (in Kolkata). While on my way back I saw a 8-10 year old, dark-complexioned  lanky boy sitting on the roadside and a boy, a little younger to him lying on his lap like a dead body. Flies were sitting on his face and the elder one was bitterly crying for money. This scene really broke my heart and without thinking anything, I just gave him some money. As I walked ahead I started questioning God, “Why are you so unjust? How can you allow a small child to face such a horrible situation so early in his life?” Within a few minutes I saw another boy in the same condition in front of Esplanade metro station. Suddenly I saw something that you can never imagine. I literally raged in anger and broke the spell of my previous emotional state. As the afternoon sunlight fell on the eyes of the boy lying down, he started blinking his eyelids and then the other boy slapped his forehead. So the boy who was acting like a dead person stopped blinking eyes!

Is being compassionate a mistake?

As I discussed on it in a WhatsApp group, some of my friends said, “Avinash, you might have forgotten that this is a Global Business of emotion”, some said “you need to think twice before you give them money”, some said, “don’t judge, let God do the justice” and so on . . . 

Yes…all such statements are true. But how can I judge someone, when my support is not even worth more than an Ice-Cream to him? Or is being compassionate giving a hand to a well-organized crime?

Though we demand for a “just society” every now and then, Who really can afford us that Society?

Recently I shared the video clip of Bryan Stevenson from his Facebook Page Mr. Bryan Stevenson is the executive director for Equal Justice Initiative, U.S. He is a middle-aged black American. For a hearing in Mid West, in due uniform, he went to the courtroom early and sat down on the Defense Counsel’s table. As the judge walk into the room, he said to Mr. Bryan, ‘hey … get out there and sit in the hall there, I don’t want any defender without the lawyer’. So, Mr. Bryan introduced himself as the lawyer. Then the judge and everyone in that court-room laughed just to sugar-coat the incident’. But the question is, ‘Is this a right conduct?

When the judge himself goes impartial/unjust/unfair because of the skin-color, then whom shall we call a ‘just person’?

The world has come to such a horrible situation, where Law-Makers – Law-Givers – Law-Protectors have become perpetrators of law. Yes… I can list few names of the institutions where the degree of becoming a Lawyer (L.L.B.) is sold at a handsome price! Whether you want Birth certificate or Pension certificate, you have to bribe the officials. Even when you want to register a F.I.R., they will ask you money.

I remember when I was doing my graduation, I and my friend went to register a F.I.R. for the loss of my friend’s life-insurance bond. But our F.I.R. was not registered for two days, as the police saw that we did not show any interest to bribe them. Finally, on the third day, the lady police officer who was to register our F.I.R. asked us to bring Carbon-Paper. And she was such a shameless officer that she asked me, ‘Have you brought only ONE carbon-paper! Was there no more in the shop?’ I replied, ‘sorry Ma’am I have no money!’ I think she was expecting me to bring her a box of carbon-papers! How shameless have we become that we are not even hesitating to brandish our shame!

We have appointed school drop-outs and goons to safeguard our Laws and we think we will get justice!

But HOW?

A person who steals beef will be imprisoned for five years and for sexual harassment only two years imprisonment! I think beef matters more than human beings to some people today! So, where is Justice?

Gandhiji rightly said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. And Nelson Mandela said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”.  I think we are some where MISSING the GAP!

It’s time to think – to fill the gap – to draw the sacred line of justice and get a just society!

In Bible God says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

Keep thinking – keep pondering…

Avinash