Social justice tries to look at a system (political, economic, social, cultural, religious, and mythical) within which we live so as to name and change those structural things that account for the fact that some of us are unduly penalised even as others are unduly privileged. Thus social justice has to do with issues such as poverty, inequality, war, racism, sexism, abortion, and lack of concern for ecology because what lies at the root of each of these is not so much someone’s private sin or some individual’s private inadequacy but rather a huge, blind system that is inherently unfair. Ronald Rolheiser
In these times of the global pandemic and the ensuing restrictions, we have become acutely aware of the inequalities in our society and systems not only locally but globally. This pandemic has held up the mirror to us to make us aware of injustices in our social systems.
Today Br Steve Rocha, Director at Pratyek, highlights the issues of social injustice especially with regard the daily wage labourers in India. The national lockdown imposed by the central government in India to curb the spread of the virus witnessed an unprecedented migration of daily wage labourers. Many likened it to the internal migration of people last seen at the time of partition and independence in 1947.
The daily wage earners deprived of their daily labour and wage, and faced with hunger and homelessness were left with no option but to travel back to their villages of origin. Since the lockdown restrictions were in place and there was no public transport available they had to set out on this journey walking. Many walked with their little possessions, carrying children on their backs and shoulders. They had to brave 40 C temperatures with very little food or water. Stories emerged of the walking mass of migrants being beaten by police, held up indefinitely at border crossings, doused with disinfectant or even run over by trains. But there were also stories of immense courage and bravery like the girl who cycled over a 1000 kms with her ailing father. There were stories of generosity as many people offered food, water and shelter to the exhausted migrants.
This mass exodus of biblical proportions exposed the underbelly of the industrial and economic progress of the country. One migrant labourer said, “In the cities, we are treated like stray dogs.” Another commented that the rich were getting all the help and being “brought home in planes from abroad. But we poor migrant labourers have been left to fend for ourselves. That is the worth of our lives.” Government directives and measures to ease this crisis were either inadequate or too little too late.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis, naming some of darker aspects of unbridled economic growth such as social exclusion, social breakdown, social aggression and the inequitable distribution and consumption of resources and services, says that these point to the “silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion” (Laudato Si 46). It is always the most vulnerable and the poorest that feel the “gravest effects of all attacks” (Laudato Si 48). Economic development and growth must consider the integral improvement in the quality of all human life for “underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development” (Laudato Si 157)
This might be the just the right time to pause and reflect on the fact that “Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. … Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed …” (Laudato Si 105).
Spend a moment considering the inequalities in our society.
Pope Francis says “we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity.” As you look around you today, what does our immediate environment (social, political, economic) say about us?
• For more information on and to get involved with PRATYeK visit www.pratyek.org.in
• Read the article Eight Emerging Lessons: From Coronavirus to Climate Action by Otto Scharmer (https://bit.ly/31dfFmQ)