03 Feb Speak Up
A group of senior boys were ragging a fresher in a crowded bus stop. The seniors were having ‘fun’ while it was utterly humiliating for the fresher. The place was teeming with people and yet no one came forward to stop the boys. A young student standing nearby couldn’t watch the unfolding events for long. How could degradation of one person be explained away as ‘fun’ for another group? Her Christian faith informed her that she needed to step in and say something even if no one else did. Her intervention saw that the fresher was let go and the group of seniors dispersed quickly into the crowd out of shame.
A group of teachers in one of the most progressive Universities sits at the beginning of every academic year to grade students for their performance in the viva voce. But sadly it became habitual for several of them to award based on the caste of students. Their comments about some of the students were totally devoid of human reason or logic. They made the retrograde caste system get better of their intellectual achievements. A few years down the line a Christian teacher refused to be a mute spectator and decided that it was time to speak up. Gradually, the grades of the students fairly improved, the color of the remarks toned down and several students’ future was secured.
We are not alien to such incidents today and history has evidenced innumerable such narratives. Caste, class, wealth, gender, ethnic identity and the like become the basis to discriminate. We constantly encounter such instances in our classrooms, hostels, cafeterias, public transport and you name it. Yet, several of us quietly pass by because we do not want to get into any ‘mess.’ Sometimes we are caught under the false impression that our Christian faith does not allow any room for outspokenness or activism.
Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and we could add, ‘to say nothing.’ When we do not speak up we are in quiet agreement with the situation of injustice. “We have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people” to quote Rev. Martin Luther King a Pastor and civil rights leader. Pro. 31: 8-9 says, Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Speak up, we just can’t keep quiet. But to speak up we need to be aware and alert constantly of our contexts. Maybe ours will be the only voice for someone’s cause and do we dare muzzle it.
Esther’s story captures a brilliant portrayal of the great power of speaking up in difficult times. Esther spoke on behalf of a community on the verge of obliteration. With utter disregard for her life and safety Esther stands up to speak for the Jews saying ‘If I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:16). Her words speak volumes of her intent. Laying her life in the balance was surely a God ordained task. Esther’s efforts were backed by fasting, prayer and total dependence on God. Spirituality combined with words and action.
The gospels are replete with accounts of Jesus speaking for those who are marginalized – children, women, the poor, the sick, the discredited and so on. When we raise our voice on issues we are questioning people’s intents and refusing to subscribe to popular imaginations and unhealthy traditions. Oft times our words of reason may be against the majority and those in power.
We live in times when injustice is perpetuated because there is no one to question. What could be possible reasons that we do not speak up in our contexts? Probably we are not fully aware of the cause or the need to be involved or we do not want to identify with the cause. Several times we are even scared. So while we consider the power of words it is good for us to ponder awhile on our missed opportunities of using the spoken word. “We are masters of the unsaid word, but slaves of those we let slip out …” said Winston Churchill.
I wonder how many of us rue the fact that we have failed to speak up when we should have spoken. So in the prophetic tradition of Amos, Micah, Isaiah and host of others in the Scripture let us be voices of reason that resonate with justice and righteousness in our contexts. Recognize the power of your words and use them since to this end God bids us speak as well.
About the Author
Dr Bonnie works in EFICOR and lives in Delhi with her husband and two young children.