Editorial: January 2010
Our Constitution emphasises the principle of equality for all citizens. However, we have not internalised the spirit of equality in our public life. Our history of monarchy is difficult to shake off, as democracy is a recent arrival in this country. The established lines created by the caste system over centuries make it difficult to grasp the concept of equality. We see political leaders as kings and their little princes are automatically next in line. The life-style of our political leaders puts to shame even the lavish life-style of the maharajahs of yore. We are more like the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm. The leader of the animals speaks about equality as follows: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
Inequality in social life is accepted by us as a harsh reality. VIP culture has permeated into our DNA. That is why we accept the fact that the VIPs need black cats, trained to fight terrorism, for their physical security.
Former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked by the security staff of a US airline in Delhi. This almost became a diplomatic incident and it died down only after the airline apologised. A few months ago, Shah Rukh Khan was in the news for having been searched at Newark airport in the US. These two gentlemen did not make a fuss about it and took it in their stride.
Millions of passengers are frisked and searched daily all over the world. If this is routine for all of them, how can a few people feel humiliated when they are searched? It will be comforting to see our ministers and other State beneficiaries rejecting their privilege and standing in line with the rest of us for security checks.
The concept that some are more equal than others negates the very concept of democracy, that all are created equal. It justifies privileges for some and sanctifies corruption; good governance becomes impossible. "What makes equality such a difficult business is that we only want it with our superiors." We should also be aware of the fact that the passion for equality produces uniformity, which produces mediocrity.
"In sport, in courage, and the sight of heaven, all men meet on equal terms," said Winston Churchill. In God's sight, there are only two classes of people: those who are in Christ and those who are outside of Him. All those who are in Christ are accepted equally; there are no grades of perfection with God. "In Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; you are all one" (Gal.3:27). "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt.5:45). This attitude comes from a quality of life which depends on a family relationship to God. Until this principle of equality is recognised and embodied in practice, the Church can do nothing effective for the permanent reformation of the world.
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile so far as sin is concerned. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom.3:23). "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."
The Church is the people of God, His holy nation, His Israel. Since Christ is our King-Priest, we are a royal priesthood, His own special people and are enabled to show forth the excellencies of God. Peter calls Christians an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession (1 Pet.2:9). As priests, Christians have access to God and are responsible for bringing others to God. Those who were no people, now are the people of God. Unimportant people now become individuals of real significance because of their tasks and new relationships. Everybody is somebody in God's Kingdom. No Christian can be ordinary, for every Christian is a child of God.
Soren Kerkegaard said, "It is only in love that the unequal can be made equal." "You are just as important as the next person, but no more important." In God's world, there are no unimportant people.
"No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem." Frederick Faber said, "If God were to send two angels to earth, the one to occupy a throne, and the other to clean a road, they would each regard their employments as equally distinguished and equally happy." Malcolm Muggeridge pointed out: "Only as Children of God are we equal; all other claims to equality-social, economic, racial, intellectual, sexual-only serve in practice to intensify inequality. For this reason, the commandment to love our fellowmen follows after, and depends upon, the commandment to love God. How marvellous is the love thus attained - the faces looming up, young and old, sullen and gay, beautiful and plain, clever and stupid, black, pink and grey; all brothers and sisters, all equally dear."
"The Lord so constituted everybody that, no matter what colour you are, you require the same amount of nourishment." In 4th century BC, Plato remarked: "All men are by nature equal, made of the same earth, by the same Creator, and however we deceive ourselves, as dear to God is the poor peasant as the mighty prince."
The gifts we offer to God are acceptable to God only in the measure in which the one who offers is in fellowship with Him in character and conduct; the test of this is in our relationship with our fellowmen. Wrong done to a brother, which is not confessed to him, cancels the value of the gift. We are strictly instructed to postpone the giving to God till right relationships are established with men. "First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift" (Matt.5:24). We are reconciled to God through the prevailing mediation of our one and only Priest; but we may not appropriate the privileges of that reconciliation without having sought reconciliation with our fellowmen.
Love for fellowmen to treat them as equals, is the hallmark and the proof of a genuine salvation experience. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn.13:35). Most of us are not willing to heed this. The church has failed miserably in this respect. Even caste distinctions have crept into the church. Differences between clergy and laity, between the rich and the poor, between denominations, continue not only in life, but also to the graveyards. God made us to live in union with Him and in unity with His body. It is this spiritual unity in love that convinces the world of the truth of the Gospel.
Every member of the body of Christ is essential to the life, health and growth of the Church. God made us to need each other. The life and health of Christian ministry is often gauged by our relationship with others.
The world hears about the scandals in our midst, which tear other Christians to shreds. This is the same spirit that made Cain envious of his brother's spirituality, the spirit which controlled Saul to seek David's life.
There is a silver lining, however, in some sectors, though not in the Christian setting. Cabinet Ministers have started flying in economy class. "Unless somebody can find a way to change human nature, we will have more crises," said Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Commission, arguing that the problems that caused the economic crisis are bound to recur. "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals," said US President Roosevelt in 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression. We learnt this all over again after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the shame of the Great Recession of 2009 all over the world. The world is now rediscovering that "enlightened self-interest" is good economics.
The moral responsibility of corporations was only to increase shareholder profits. However, the number of socially responsible investment mutual funds is now growing; it is now widely recognised that profits and principles are not mutually exclusive. Progressive companies are now also talking about profit, planet and people, focussing on running a business, while trying to improve the impact on the environment.
Some leaders show by example that they can abide by the code of conduct set up in their organisations. JRD Tata was once stopped from entering the mess in the Tata Centre For Management in Pune, where a group of Tata executives were having lunch. The reason: JRD was not wearing a tie, as required by the dress code of the mess. Without making any fuss, he went quietly to his room, where he enjoyed his lunch. Azim Premji was once stopped by a watchman from entering the office; he did not have his ID card. The watchman feared dire consequences. But, Premji appreciated the watchman's sense of duty and gave him a cash award.
We can expect to become less of an Animal Farm only when there are many leaders like JRD and Premji, especially in our churches and Christian organisations.