“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity”
—George Bernard Shaw
When I read about the holocaust for the first time, I was horrified, revolted, amazed. It all seemed so unreal. How could man do something like that to a fellow human being? All the things that the unaffected, emotionless white pages recounted to me to be facts, felt more like an eerie tale – concocted by some story-teller with a dark imagination. It seemed so chimerical, so impossible. How could the world let all this happen? How could it close its eyes and numb the rest of its senses to the catastrophe unfolding before it? It had me thinking, if the world turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to a million cries of pain; what difference would one helpless shriek for help, one person in distress or one victim make to the public conscience? It was a terrifying thought.
The sudden realisation that in the end, there is no one to help you was frightening. And even more shocking than that was to be faced with the fact that my own thoughts were no different than the society itself. When I went to Connaught Place in Delhi for the first time, the first thing that struck me about the place was not its immensity or grandeur; it was the scores of beggars roaming around outside the many ostentatious designer show-rooms. It was so ironic to see luxury and poverty cohabit together in that place. And even more interesting was to watch how people practiced momentary blindness and deafness. The filthy kids would come after you, with their memorised dialogue of how they are starving or ill and the people would walk by as if that was wind and not a human being talking to them. I learnt how to do that too. But had I felt any responsibility towards my fellow human-beings, I would have tried to do something to better their lot, but I didn’t.
Being a part of society comes with its own advantages and all of us seem to want the privileges but none of the responsibilities that come with it. We don’t let ourselves feel anything for things that are not related to us. We all train ourselves to be indifferent because to care is to feel and with feeling comes the guilt that pushes you to actually do something. And it is always easier to sit back in our couches with bowls of pop-corn while the television shows document the kind of poverty and human-rights violation we thought could never exist. All those stories of pain and misfortune, of desperation and dejection, of human suffering seems just to remind us of how good our lives are in comparison to theirs. We shed a few tears now and then, throw some tantrums, stomp our feet, and well… that’s the solution to all our ‘problems’. And the worst misfortune that can happen to us would be not getting what we demand. How can we cry for such petty things when we are living in a world where more than 100 million children remain out of school with 46 per cent girls in the world’s poorest countries have no access to primary education? Where 2 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation each year and only 9 countries have specific legislations outlawing it. Where 25 per cent of women experience sexual abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime and 79 countries have no legislation against domestic violence.
The figures are mind-boggling. But there is more to come. There are 2 bullets for every person on the planet and 1 gun for every ten. 1000 is the average number of people killed every day by small arms. There is a 1 to 10 ratio between money spent on development and money spent on military budget; that is, for every $1 spent on development assistance, $10 is spent on military budgets. 88 per cent of reported conventional arms exports are from the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, UK and USA.
But well, what difference does all that make to us? We are all so indifferent. When things in front of our eyes fail to grab our attention, how do things miles away matter? We are indifferent to the hundreds of tragedies unfolding around us…….indifferent to the injured person lying on the side of the road, gasping for air; indifferent to the 12 year old maid impregnated by her employer; indifferent to the kid married at age 10 to be abandoned by her husband when she turned 15; indifferent to the ‘wild’ tribal people living somewhere in the north-east who are being mass-raped, maimed and shot-at-sight. Well, why should we care? It is not my life that is getting messed up. It is not my cause to fight for, as long as its not happening in my backyard…….but the fire that rages in my neighbour’s house doesn’t take a long time to spread over to mine. But I won’t realise that. We think there are so many things that can never happen to us, but they do. They always do.
All across the planet, there are people living in unimaginable suffering, getting on with life in conditions we won’t even subject our pets to. We are living in a world where there are places where the birth rates happen to be nil because of the low level of medical facilities, or rather the lack of any medical facilities. There are places where ‘schools’, ‘UNO’, ‘human rights’ are words unheard of. There is so much sadness in this world, so much of brightness and happiness left to be spread and shared and yet we say that we can’t find a reason to live.
We are all such hypocritical creatures. It is ironic how the face of some kid in Somalia or Rwanda would affect me more than the face of my own servant boy. Well, there is no glamour in shedding tears for a petty thing like my servant-boy’s life story but certainly when Oprah Winfrey cries for Africa, my tears fall like the Niagra fall’s. It is easier to say ‘I should do something about the hungry kids in Africa’ than to say ‘I should do something to give my servant an education’. The distance between continents gives us the excuse to not do anything, while towards the unfortunate ones at hand, its better to remain indifferent and passive, even though we know in our hearts that they are the ones we can really do something about.
But it is time to let go of some of that indifference and let some of the pent-up guilt take over. It is time to look at all the scores of unlucky, unfortunate people not as people belonging to a lesser society or a world far removed from ours, and actually start considering the small differences that we can make in their lives. The limit of love inside us is boundless. All of us have so much of love, affection and care to share. Certainly we can let some of that spill over to the lives of the ‘children of lesser God’ around us. Certainly, the indifference we have made a way of life can be overcome by humanity.