Across South Asia we need to divert resources towards our real enemies and focus on providing a life of dignity to the underprivileged and the disadvantaged
It was a regular Friday morning. I woke up to the sounds of the assembly in the school behind my house, children singing Allama Iqbal’s “Mazhab naheen sikhaata aapas main bair rakhna” and the national anthem. The national anthem of a country that through its constitution commits itself to equality, fraternity and secularism. Coming four days after the St. Sebastian Church was burnt down in Delhi and a day before the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, it sounded quite ironic.
I got out of bed, showered and headed to Ingraham English School, G.T. Road, Ghaziabad for their sports day celebrations. Entering the school, I looked at the familiar arch with the saying “Jesus Loves You”. I wonder how that lands for the religious militants like those who destroyed the church. Would they perhaps be repulsed by the idea that a “foreign” deity loves those who live in Bharat long after we got independence from the British?
The campus I visited also houses a school for children with special needs and I wanted to watch them in action. After the march past, there were some cultural performances including a dance by hearing and speech-impaired children. I was surprised by how well coordinated they were. Then I noticed Dr. Lynnette Martina, their psychologist, physiotherapist, counsellor, teacher, nurse and now their dance instructor standing in a corner, performing the dance moves to be imitated by them.
The students in the school have conditions like speech and hearing impairment, physical handicaps as well as 30 students with disorders such as autism, Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, A.D.H.D, and delayed milestones. Starting off with a Diploma in physiotherapy, Dr. Lynnette Martina has continuously undergone training to meet the demands of her job. She did an M.D.(A.M), B.A.S.M in gynecology medicines, a course in alternative medicines, a Bachelor’s in business administration and finally a P.G. Diploma in Psychotherapy. I wondered why people like her and her colleagues are not the role models of the youth in our countries instead of Bollywood stars.
The local member of the state legislative assembly in his address waxed eloquent about the contribution of the school managed by the Methodist Church. I wonder why the government does not fund and set up such schools.
There are two such schools in Ghaziabad, both run by the tiny Christian population and none by the government or religious institutions of other denominations. I have never visited Pakistan but I wonder about the situation there. News reports are hardly encouraging, as both countries share the virus of persecution of religious minorities.
Later that day I read reports of the COAS of Pakistan, Gen Raheel Sharif saying that Pakistan’s current enemy “lives within us and looks like us”. I suppose he was referring to the militants threatening to rip Pakistan apart from within.
I wonder though, whether he or the political establishments in India and Pakistan realise that the true enemy within us is far more subtle. It is the hijack of the national discourse in both countries by “security”, religion, sect and caste instead of the people and the land.
We obsess about our religious, sectarian, linguistic and caste-based identities to the extent of dehumanising hundreds of millions of people and boxing them into objects of fear, hate and ridicule. We are more interested in celebrating Kailash Satyarthi’s Nobel prize than the sobering reality that we have the world’s largest slave population and underage children working in factories and brothels.
At the end of the day, I saw the usual wisdom posts in a social media site about our various social problems including misogyny, human rights and poverty. Everyone was very passionate about their support for women’s rights but when I invited volunteers to fight against it, there was a stunned silence. Soon enough, people resumed their feel good posts about humanity, philosophy and religion with no talk of any action. I suppose it feels good to discuss these issues, even if it hardly makes a difference.
We need committed action and that can only come from a people who get out of their drawing rooms and put their money where their mouth is. We need people to intervene when they see a girl being molested in public transport, when a neighbour beats up an underage maid, when public servants demand bribes.
We need people to register complaints when the media misuses its power, when policemen do not register an F.I.R. and when the public works contractor builds a sub-standard road that breaks down in one season.
We, the people need to stand up and be counted instead of complaining ceaselessly about the ills in our societies. The author is an IT professional and a peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India. Email: [email protected]