Editorial: April 2008
AGENTS OF CHANGE
It has been over 15 years since India opened up to the global winds of change and embraced free-market capitalism. The stock market appears to be on a perpetual roller-coaster ride. Real estate prices are soaring sky high. The Sensex surged more than 6000 points last year to breach 20,000. Occasionally, we should pause and reflect on where we are headed.
Tata Steel bought Corus. Billionaires proliferated. Four Indians have made it to the top eight in the list of the world’s billionaires. Salaries jumped. Some 80 million more cell phones jingled last year. A million more cars choked essentially the same stretch of roads during 2007. Domestic air travel spiked 40% and about 10 million Indians travelled abroad for business and pleasure. Across the world, there was growing recognition of the country's economic performance and information technology potential. Foreign investors are flowing into the country to avail of the booming market. However, this is largely about urban India.
But there are tens of millions of our fellow citizens still trapped in grinding poverty in rural India. For them, electricity is still a luxury, water generally contaminated, roads non-existent. Crops fail regularly and farmers commit suicide. Law and justice are still an ideal rather than a reality and their hopes to escape poverty are proved futile. The standard of teaching in rural schools remains abysmally low and job opportunities don't improve much after graduating from school. “One third of the country’s youth are illiterate.”
Even within schools the scenario is bleak. Two teenagers recently shot down their classmate Abhishek, 14, in a Gurgaon public school, following a quarrel in the corridor. Similar killings have been reported from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. While I was writing this, I saw yet another incident in The Times of India. A class X student in a public school in Sohna, along with some of his friends, attacked three of his classmates with sticks and knives. The students escaped with stab wounds. The boys paid for objecting to "eve teasing," a term derived no doubt from the account in Genesis. Rohit in Class VIII poked his classmate's eye with a compass when she refused to accept his 'love letter.' A class V student squashed his classmate's finger in a door hinge, suspecting that he had stolen his pencil box.
Atrocities are committed everyday. We have the worst crime record in the world. Women are treated like objects. It is reported that every hour 18 women become victims of crime. The number of rapes a day has increased nearly 700% since 1971; it has grown from 7 cases a day to 53. The number of unreported cases is far higher. 7618 women were killed for dowry in 2006. Experts ascribe such incidents to a combination of factors: increasing exposure to violence through the media and the internet, lack of parental supervision, the pressure to perform at school, growing substance abuse, junk food and a sedentary life-style.
Kids now watch TV three to four hours everyday. The outcome is that they are rendered immune to pain by gory scenes of bloodletting; they see violence as a routine solution to problems. "Studies conducted world-wide have found that children under stress tend to relate to the characters who are wronged. They try out violent ways of revenge as shown on the screen." Power packed computer games and gun-toting toys are also partners in crime. The names of the computer games are self-explanatory: Hit Man, Blood Money, Road Rash, Bullet Witch and Assassin's Creed. The thrill the kids have in shooting down an army of evils in such games, or playing with a plastic replica of the lethal AK-47 gets carried over into the real world. When a child grows up exposed to guns and violence, the line between reality and make-believe gets blurred.
The present generation enjoys more sophisticated toys than ever before; yet each toy has a shorter thrill-span than the previous one. We are constantly weary of our new inventions. A child who is filled with wonder is also filled with a sense of enchantment, a sense of significance, a sense of meaning. When wonder ceases, boredom and emptiness begin to stalk existence. The loss of gratitude is another serious loss. If children are raised without instilling in them values such as a sense of gratitude toward those who gave them life and sustenance, they become potential enemies with terrifying possibilities. Our relationships are key. One finds unending wonder in a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the centre-piece of history. No one in history has effected as much change on the moral fabric of society as Jesus Christ.
Persistent tension, use of foul language at home, and lack of communication with the parents affect young minds the most. Children crave attention and it can be tough for parents juggling two jobs or households in which two incomes are needed to make ends meet. Their absence is sought to be made up by parents with gadgets such as mobiles and latest gizmos; this compounds the problem further. The frustration is let out as violent outbursts.
The expectations of parents add to this problem. The parents want their kids to be all that they could not be. "I am doing all this-working double shifts-so that you don't have to toil the way I do," is a familiar refrain. The children find it difficult to cope and this makes them turn rebellious.
The increasing stress at schools to perform well draws the child into a rat-race. Peer pressure to remain in tune with the times adds to the stress. They turn to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, which are now easily available. A study in Delhi showed that there has been a four-fold increase in the use of tobacco and alcohol among the 15-18 age group, over the last decade. A concerted effort from parents, society and the government is necessary to end these addictions.
Politicians promise that technology and communication will lead to the betterment of society and peace. The duplicity that has emerged from politicians, legal practitioners and even some purveyors of religion has left a generation of young people apathetic, cynical and even fearful. The lies in news, advertising, salesmanship and politics are mind-numbing. John Muggeridge described the lie stuck like a fish-bone in the throat of the microphone! For most people, truth does not really matter. Researchers have just discovered that the transition from pure truth-tellers to dissemblers begins as early as the fourth year of life!
Billboards promise that happiness lies in the next car or the next house. Educators promise that we will reduce the threat of HIV/AIDS if we introduce sex education in schools. Of the myriad possibilities for entertainment, sensuality and violence are the two most often used to titillate. Healthy laughter is seldom encouraged. Destructive and offensive entertainment is often preferred to creative and legitimate means. It is now becoming difficult to keep daily newspapers in the drawing room because of the vulgar stories and nude photographs in them.
Scripture teaches us that humanity is made in the image of God and our body is the temple of God. Violence defaces the image of God and sensuality profanes the temple of God.
When the Apostle Thomas asked Jesus to show him the way to God, Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jn.14:6). Anything that contradicts His statements is, by definition, false. We can never know ourselves until we know Him. The impassioned search for ourselves culminates only when we find Him. "It is foolish to neglect the things that are beneficial and necessary to us, and give our minds to things that arouse our interest and damage us."
This sense of decay is prevalent even within the church. Almost three quarters of Americans who have not crossed the doors of a church in the last six months think it is 'full of hypocrites." They consider Christianity to be more about organised religion than about loving God and people. The vast majority of young non-Christians view Christians as a bunch of people who are beef-eating, drunken, judgmental and hypocritical.
The church has a poor record and there are valid reasons for the contempt of the common man for what goes on in the church. What is done in the name of Christ for enriching and empowering corrupt church officials has been a terrible affront to the body of Christ. It is also true that rabble-rousers often get more attention than those blessed with a quiet and humble spirit. Much of what is offered on Christian TV leaves me embarrassed. All teaching must be true to the touchstone, the Bible. The earlier we recognise that we are accountable to God, quicker will be our turnaround.
It is time we recognise the changing context around us and bring about the necessary changes in ourselves.
On January 10, Ratan Tata launched a global revolution with the Nano, the one-lakh car, the cheapest in the world. It is expected to hit the market in the next few months. Nano is not only a new product, but also a new way of thinking. He showed the world that, given the right challenges and leadership, we can innovate and engineer better than others. It is possible to constantly complain about constraints; learn to use constraints as levers for breakthrough thinking. Tata kept the promise in spite of the dramatic increases in the price of raw materials. He has rekindled the innovative spirit. He has leapfrogged our country into the hallowed halls of pioneers who show the world how to do things elegantly, efficiently and profitably. This was demonstrated by Homi Bhabha during the 1960s in the field of atomic energy.
This country has not only the best manpower in the world, but also the creative brainpower. Relentless pursuit of a vision combined with thinking outside the box will result in innovative and cutting-edge solutions, even in the face of heavy odds. Only if we think and act differently can we produce different results.
When Martin Luther King Jr. saw Negroes suffering from appalling racial prejudice, where they could not study in the same schools, ride on the same buses, attend the same churches and dine at the same restaurants as the whites, he said: "To expect God to do everything while we do nothing, this is not faith; it is superstition." Einstein said: "It is madness to expect different results when we continue to do the same thing."
The treatment of an illness is only as good as the diagnosis that is made at the outset. The fight is between Good and Evil, not between religions. It is by being born of the Spirit of God and living by the Spirit that the person can become new. It is this transformation that can change our way of thinking and living. Then we will have a Biblical worldview and will uphold Christian values in our lives. We will then be headed in the right direction. When you walk in the Spirit, you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh (Gal.5:16). "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal.5:22). That's a different world altogether.