To discriminate against someone is to exclude that person from the full enjoyment of their political, civic, economic, social or cultural rights and freedom. Discrimination contradicts a basic principle of human rights: that all people are equal in dignity and entitled to the same fundamental rights. Discrimination and segregation related to ethnicity, culture, physical appearance, religion and social status take place in ways both palpable and subtle. Sadly, this culture which was previously restricted to just the “upper-class” and the politicians is now being followed vastly by almost everyone!
In India, there are more than 32 crore people which are known as untouchables. They are normal human beings who work day and night to earn a living. They have ears, eyes and truly everything which makes us human. Yet, they are considered the most unpleasant “kind” of people on the basis of where they live and on their heritage. We all condemn that sort of activity but yet we practice it every day, though we haven’t given the people who live in the slums a title/name (like untouchables). When we see someone, our mind immediately forms a fact sheet about that person. That fact sheet contains reasons to whether or not that person deserves to be gifted by our presence. This leads to new social barriers, since we want to surround ourselves with people who are (apparently) influential and powerful, we tend to alienate ourselves from the masses. We colonise in the areas which are more socially acceptable and preferable and situated ideally away from the “dirt of the city”. These social barriers – created by us- have a huge impact on the society in general.
A few days ago, I went to a local Mosque for prayer. I was flabbergasted to know that my driver was not allowed to enter the Mosque by the guards, claiming that the Mosque is for the “sahabs” only! Such is the level of prejudice in our society. We’ve created barriers in our homes and in our hearts. I believe that we’re all equal; some people might have more money, some might enjoy the high social status but all of it does not change the fact that we’re all human and we all deserve to be treated impartially! There are posh areas in the city where the elite live in their huge mansions; protected by personal guards, enjoying a life which a normal person can only dream of and yet they are captives in their homes. Most of them have decided to estrange themselves from the general population and to live a life far away from reality. The reality- which includes all the problems faced by the people outside their high security walls.
Economic inequalities armoured by social barriers make it especially difficult for poor people to move out of poverty. The general population is mainly focused on their survival while the question of crossing the barrier and speaking up for their rights and egalitarianism seems absurd; they are all dependant on that same ruling class for their bread and butter. Our this attitude to stay away from people who are less privileged than us forces people into more despair as we are unaware of their problems and hence are indifferent towards their lives. Education has also been seen as a means of equalisation among all, because it has been argued that universal education for all would be an ideal environment where children could bypass factors such as race, gender and social class standing. In all actuality, the latter is merely a flight of fancy. Social discrimination is prevalent widely in schools where students form their own groups of friends and some groups contain popular people who are “followed” by others. There are students who consider themselves higher than others merely on the basis of the social status acquired by their parents.
It’s depressing to see that the overall trend in our society now is to discriminate ourselves in various groups and to isolate those who we feel are unworthy of any consideration.
The question is: Who will change this social norm and help in establishing justice? Who will put an end to this inequity?
Educators and theologians in the past have led massive revolutions on the basis of religion or mass education. But, education and religion are not in leadership roles today. Strong political leadership can be considered a possibility, but politics is coupled with greed for both affluence and supremacy. The media—television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet—certainly have a powerful influence on what is seen as acceptable behaviour. However, the media are not leaders. They feed back to us those things for which we will pay the most to see, hear, or read. That leaves us, the general public, to lead ourselves!
Limiting beliefs can’t be dispelled overnight, but a shift in focus on what we have in common over what’s different can have a powerful unifying effect. We have to eliminate this sense of supremacy from ourselves in order to achieve the true potential of our society. Maybe if we accept that we are each capable of good and bad, of being open and narrow in mind, we can see how truly similar we are to each other. We need to accept we are all equal, and those more privileged are at the expense of those who are not.