Disturbed by the evil and injustices telecast on TV, a man complained to his wife: “There’s so much of evil and misery all over the world. I must do something!” His wife asked: “What will you do?” He replied, “I’ll change the channel!” Changing TV channels or building walls cannot eradicate the injustices that millions of our people experience daily. Today, “World Day of Social Justice”, let’s reflect on how you and I can promote justice.
I must first ask: Why is there widespread inequality and injustice? Who’s responsible for the hunger, poverty, illiteracy, abuse of children, subjugation of women, violation of rights and inequalities of class and caste, creating hell for millions? To the extent that I overeat, overspend, practice exclusion and treat others unjustly, I am to blame for poverty, inequality and subversion of human rights.
Second, it’s not enough to be aware that injustices exist, but I must take steps to ensure that in my home, neighbourhood, college or office, everyone is treated with respect and given one’s due — be it my cook, sweeper, chowkidar, driver, gardener or clerk. A just wage and good working conditions restore respect and self-confidence that one needs to live happily.
Third, all religions teach us to be just and compassionate. The Bible has words like just, justice and justly a 100 times in the First Testament, before Christ. Later, Jesus advocated justice to be perfected with love and mercy. Equality and dignity for all being basic, the Buddha preached compassion and proclaimed that everyone has the right to a fair share of the earth’s resources.
Islam bids believers to strive for justice. The Quran teaches: “My Lord enjoins justice”; “Allah loves those who act justly” and, “Do justice, it is nearer to piety”. Hinduism preaches dharma, the basic law of being just and in right relationship with others through daya: mercy and compassion.
Fourth, we must distinguish between charity and justice. Brazilian Archbishop Camara succinctly said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Charity makes us feel superior to those to whom we dole out some money, while justice creates solidarity among people who stand shoulder-to-shoulder demanding legitimate rights.
Striving for justice is not political activism; rather, it’s daridra Narayan seva: service to God in the poor. Jesus preached that our salvation depends on this: “Whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers — poor, sick, hungry, imprisoned, excluded, deprived of justice and rights — you do unto me.” Instead of changing TV channels or building walls, let’s pray, “O God of Justice, make me a channel of your justice and peace!”