Image of the 20th century: iconic, phenomenal and instantly famous around the world. The day is June 5th 1989, right after the macabre Tiananmen Square massacre where chinese military tanks mercilessly mowed down peaceful demonstrators protesting the oppressive authoritarian regime. A journalist discreetly captures a video clip, barely a few minutes long, documenting a common man’s nonviolent protest against the Chinese government. This video goes viral everywhere outside China and makes the world sit up and take notice of its political situation. Time magazine lists him as one of the 100 most important people in the world. Known only as The Unknown Rebel, the Tankman, and many other epithets, the symbol of the Tiananmen Square protests does not know of his own significance, if he is even alive today. All he did was to stand in front of a procession of 17 tanks, swinging two plastic bags, one in each hand, and not budge. A simple act of courage, but the waves he made in world media are overwhelming and historic.
Injustice has been the nagging disease of sociopolitical structures around the world for centuries. It has given birth to many a revolution, peaceful protest, march, new political party, riot, war, and musical genre. (Punk rock, Reggae, Rap, R&B are all products of rebellion). The story of the fight against injustice is bloodied, blazing, full of knotted souls and hopeful hearts: the storming of the Bastille in 18th century France, the anti slavery movement in America, the Tiananmen Square Massacres in 20th century China, etc. Sometimes it is ferocious and bloodied, like the Holocaust and Socialist Russia, other times it is a slow poison like ancient India’s caste system and today’s racism and prejudice.
Since the United Nations released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it has been harder to get away with injustice: which presents new challenges. Justice isn’t so simple to define, even as Fairness or Legality. Martin Luther King once said, “Never forget, everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”. Today, the quest for justice has different enemies: Apathy. Ignorance. Superstition. It is hidden in the way we treat people different from us, in the way women are projected. How, then, does an ordinary person of the 21st century fight injustice? It isn’t just about holding blazing torches and shedding blood or marching off to every single protest there is, it is about starting from the basics: about merely standing up and putting your foot down, like the Tank man did.
1. Watch Your Words:
Words are highly underestimated poisons. The greatest example lies in the cuss-words. Think of the most commonly used cusswords. All of them are in some way or another degrading to women, and their anatomy. They include mothers both wed and unwed, sisters, prostitutes, etc. Don’t say things like “The losing team was raped by the winning team”. It vilifies and degrades victims of rape. What does this say about how society views our women? Moving on to the words we do NOT use. Why is the word “f***” used so freely, while people get tight lipped when it comes to talking about sex? These are the very things that shape major issues in our society today. The most basic way to start fighting injustice is through the building blocks of language: words.
2. Watch Your Humour:
What kinds of visual media do you classify under “entertainment”? What are the jokes you laugh at? Racist ones? “But he makes fun of everyone, so it’s okay!” What are the stereotypes you enforce by laughing at a joke about a Sardar or a Jew or a man of African descent? If you are about to say this point is going a little far, a little preachy and boring, remember that the teacher who would crack jokes and banter lightly with the class had more of a hold over your attention than the teacher who was serious and severe. Prejudice is injustice. It negates and degrades the image of a person.
3. Fight Apathy:
The only thing worse than a mistake is doing nothing. The true criminals in history are the bystanders, the spectators who stood back and watched, refusing responsibility, and making the excuse that involvement is futile, that the situation is beyond repair, disguising their cowardice with the word “Peaceable”. Don’t allow yourself the luxury of not feeling. Feel. The world is the way it is today because people don’t care enough. They sacrifice their emotions at the altar of Cynicism. They refuse to hope because of the fear of failure. Aldous Huxley wrote a book about a Brave New World. Courage is everything.
4. Use the Media Wisely:
Today, the immense power of the media is so oft talked about that it has become cliched. In a country where the media enjoys relatively more autonomy and power than in others, we must not underestimate the possibilities that are at hand. Imagine: just nine years after the Tank Man incident, Chinese intellectuals had forgotten about him simply because publications of any news with respect to him were suppressed, while the rest of the world was commemorating the anniversary of the incident in magazines like Life and Time. Get active on social media. Make yourself more aware, spread positive messages and communicate understanding. Get involved in debates. Put your questions out there. Be unafraid to voice your opinions. Armchair activism, as much as it is criticized, is important. Our social media is the best gauge of public opinion. Build on it.
5. Value Integrity:
Dishonesty is the most primal form of injustice. It’s like when you steal: you are depriving someone of what is rightfully theirs. When you are dishonest with yourself or with others, you are depriving their-and your right to truth. Be true to your ideals, to what is right, to what you love and hold dear, even if it is difficult to. A world of justice will only come to a race of human beings who are courageous enough to stand for what they believe in, no matter what they have to stake for that. But courage, without integrity crosses into shamelessness, it becomes ugly and farcical. Fight hypocrisy. Walk your talk, of grasp the full power of leading by example. Call out those who claim their rights but deny the same ones to others. A bright future cannot be founded on falsity and untruth.
6. Get Involved:
After you are done forming your opinions and equipping yourself, get out and get involved at the grassroots level. Volunteer with an NGO Teach underprivileged kids for free. Do your bit in areas you feel most passionately about: whether it’s Education, Poverty, Animal Rights, etc. There are numerous organizations out there that could use your help, and do tremendous amounts of work with more manpower.
7. Understand the Butterfly Effect:
Understand the chaos theory, where the quiver of an insect’s wing can set off a hurricane in a faraway country: in such a world everything you do or don’t do makes a difference. Understand that you are part of a larger picture. You are not merely an individual; you are a gear in the machinery of the world. This recognition is a beginning in the fight for justice. It is absent in the most war torn societies of the world, maddened by state and ethnic politics.
8. Think for yourself:
There is only so much your education can do for you. Put your ability and freedom to think for yourself to good use. Question every idea that you have ever taken for granted. Is it really okay to do something because everyone else thinks it’s okay to? Think of illegal downloading and peer to peer sharing of copyrighted content, or lewd and bawdy humor used in children’s movies. How much of it are you letting slide past? Is it really okay to do that? Put yourself in other people’s shoes, analyse, deconstruct, and don’t take anything at face value. Think, think, think. Most of the blunders ever made in the world have happened because people have failed to think enough, think rationally about the ideas they possess.
9. Speak Out:
This seems the most obvious, self-evident and ancient method of fighting injustice. Raising your voice when you have to, and fearlessly expressing what’s on your mind. Do not fear authority. Fear only the repercussions of letting the injustice go on and multiply. When you see it happen in front of you, for instance, domestic abuse or child labour, make it stop. Do something about it. And as the internet generation, we have so many avenues open to us. It is also important to have substance. If you are going to make a point, ensure that it is something you can defend until the end, with reason and composure. Become good at substantiating your views with cogent and well thought out arguments. Do not teach a child to be quiet when he or she is being bullied. Instead, teach him or her to assert herself or himself.
10. Equip Yourself:
After all, it is a fight, so you must be armed. Arm yourself with knowledge, with a clear mind and an articulate voice. Arm yourself with empathy, the ability to place yourself in the shoes of another. Develop your leadership skills, learn to be an effective persuasive speaker. If you are a woman concerned about rape, learn to defend yourself physically. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel powerless. Widen your circle of influence.