The Light of Life Magazine
A ministry of Christian writing

August 2010

Kuruvilla Chandy

Most of us think that rules are not for us, but for others.

"Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?" (Jer.13:23, NRSV). The rest of that verse reads, "Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil."

When travelling internationally, I am ashamed to be an Indian. Here are my reasons. While waiting for our flight to be announced, an earlier flight is announcing its ‘last boarding call’ asking Ms Rukmani Das, Mrs Rani Chatterjee, Mr Raj Chatterjee and Mr Deepak Rajsekhar to get to the gate immediately as the flight is ready to leave. The ‘last boarding call’ is made several times. After about ten minutes, four persons are seen rushing to the gate, loaded with shopping bags of stuff they’ve bought at the duty free shops. And this is typical. If it is a flight to Delhi or any Indian airport, there will definitely be such last calls, and 9 times out of 10, the missing people are Indians.

After our flight has been boarded, and we’ve settled in our seats, there are announcements about switching off mobile phones, laptops and similar electronic devices that would interfere with the aircraft’s systems. Close by is a smart young Indian guy with a fancy mobile phone who ignores the announcement and continues to talk to his contact. The flight attendant approaches him and asks him to please switch off the phone. He nods and indicates that he is doing it, but when the attendant moves on, continues to talk. The attendant returns to repeat her request. This time he raises his palm and indicates that he will do it in a minute. The airhostess hasn’t moved on, and repeats her request. This time there is an edge to her voice. Finally, 7 minutes after the announcement was made, the man switches off his phone. This too is typical. In the movie Love Aaj Kal, Deepika Padukone is shown talking on her mobile phone and the flight attendant having to repeatedly request her to switch off her phone. The producer of the movie probably wasn’t showing that to correct any behaviour, but to suggest the intensity of her relationship with Saif Ali Khan to whom she is talking. Still,the producer did capture an Indian trait. On any flight headed toward India, there are always some Indians who will behave in this manner. The head attendant makes the announcement that our flight is approaching Delhi. She also adds that everyone is to remain seated until the seat belt sign is switched off. But the moment the announcement is over, two or three men have sprung up from their seats to open the overhead storage bins and retrieve their hand baggage. The attendant makes a strident announcement that everyone is to refrain from opening the storage bins and to immediately return to their seats. In one case, a flight attendant had to go up to the person and insist on immediate compliance.

Someone may sheepishly grin and make light of it, "We are like that only!" But I cannot take this lightly. At the least, this kind of behaviour is inconsiderate, and at the worst it is dangerous--for others.

The reason we behave this way is that we are a nation in ‘civil disobedience mode.’ India won its independence through Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement against the British. It was a passive resistance. He called it satyagraha. The term literally means ‘truth force.’ The principles of satyagraha are: sat--openness, honesty, and fairness--truth, ahimsa--refusal to inflict injury on others, and tapasya--willingness for self-sacrifice. Gandhi’s ideas on civil disobedience were not original, though his attempts gained him more prominence than the original propagator.

In 1849 Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay to explain his reasons for refusing to pay a poll tax that the American government had imposed on citizens in order to finance a war against Mexico and to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law.

Martin Luther King picked up Gandhi’s example when he led the revolt against laws that kept blacks oppressed and suppressed in USA.Later on, blacks in South Africa, along with whites who had a sense of justice, resorted to civil disobedience methods to overthrow apartheid. American students stopped the Vietnam War with their non-cooperative sit-ins.

Civil disobedience involves a conscientious objection to a law that announces its intention to disobey, and accepts that, as long as the law remains unchanged, such disobedience merits punishment. As ‘descendants’ of freedom fighters, our people are in civil disobedience mode. But it’s just a mode. They are just being modish, that is, fashionable.

Our notions of freedom are that we are free from rules. Most Indians have the attitude that rules are not for them, but for others. The Bible has another take on the law. The Bible says that the law in summary is aiming at everyone loving their fellow humans. What the law does is to prevent any one person exceeding the limits of liberty and intruding into someone else’s space. It prevents us from treading on another’s toes.

This notion comes from the Lord Jesus who described Himself as having come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Matt.5:17). Jesus said that all God’s laws could be ‘hung’ on just two: love God and love neighbour (Matt.22:40). Paul followed with an elaboration of this idea, when he wrote that the entire law is summed up in one commandment--love one’s neighbour as oneself (Rom.13:1-7).

©2010 Light of Life