08 Aug Unite and Triumph
The heinous massacre at the Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin is on my mind. I was reminded of that time three years ago when our dear friends recounted the story of their harrowing escape from the marauding mob that was out to kill any Sikhs on the streets of New Delhi in 1984, soon after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard. They said that it was the first time they ever felt that they didn’t belong in their own neighborhood. I responded to them that no one should ever have to feel that they don’t belong – anywhere on Earth. Since the Wisconsin massacre, the tone-deaf media has been focusing on the differences between Sikhs and Muslims, as if the tragedy would have been more acceptable if the victims had been Muslims in a mosque. It is the same old story of “Divide and Conquer,” the game that the colonizers played to keep the colonized engaged in bitter fratricidal struggles instead of uniting against their oppressors. This is the game that the powerful play to keep the masses fearful and in submission even today, reflecting their own fear of the loss of that power.
At their core, all religions are based on the foundation of compassion. Even secular humanism, which admits to no God, is based on compassion. That is a powerful basis for unity, not division. And yet, religion has been used to discriminate as different religious adherents brought different stories from different parts of the world and in different languages. When such differences are highlighted, we tend to forget the underlying unity in that rock-solid foundation of compassion.
Discrimination, not money, is the root of all evil. Money is just a tool for inter-personal transactions and it cuts both ways. It can be used to promote evil or it can be used to promote good. Discrimination, on the other hand, whether it is on the basis of religion, race, color, caste, sex, national origin, sexual orientation – or species – is evil on its foundation. We cannot pick and choose which forms of discrimination we are opposed to while turning a blind eye to the rest.
But just as discrimination cannot be compartmentalized, compassion is good on its foundation and cannot be compartmentalized either. It is all-encompassing. It is not OK to be compassionate towards the members of the group that you’ve identified with, while ignoring the plight of those who don’t belong to your group.
Compassion is for all creation. Like the flower that lends its perfume to anyone who smells it, even to the person who plucks it, compassion shines on all, including the oppressors. But compassion is a powerful tool for righting the wrongs in this world. For compassion has another name and it is Veganism. And as Philip Wollen pointed out, Veganism is the Swiss-army Knife of the moment, a tool that can ameliorate so many of the world’s ills in one simple lifestyle choice.
Though veganism is practiced mainly by those who are active in the animal rights movement, the mass adoption of veganism can instantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40-50% to combat climate change. It would allow the world’s forests and ocean to regenerate and recover to halt biodiversity loss. It would drastically reduce or even eliminate world hunger. It would reduce health care costs in the developed world by an order of magnitude as we would no longer deliberately make ourselves sick with our diets, while we medicate ourselves with drugs to cure the resulting illnesses. It would drastically reorient the focus of our economies towards the promotion of wellness instead of its present focus on curing our sicknesses. Finally, it would necessitate the exercise of restraint, which is all too rare among the executives of the too-big-to-fail corporations and which they desperately need to learn.
Veganism is the common framework that can unite everyone in the animal rights movement, the environmental movement, the health care reform movement and the Occupy movement, to create a groundswell of concerted action towards their respective goals. But these individual goals turn out in the end to be one common goal – Justice! And Justice, on its foundation, is non-discriminatory.
Therefore, let’s see through these “divide and conquer” techniques and instead, let’s “unite and triumph”!