In his model of ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ Abraham Maslow states that human motivation moves through stages. You need to satisfy one stage before can you move on to the next. You would feed or shelter yourself before worrying about love or acceptance or self-actualization.
The concept of this pyramid came to my mind, when, on a recent Facebook discussion, my friend Pooja made a point. She said, ‘Be a freaking human first.‘ This struck a chord. Perhaps somehow, we are all losing the point? The point here, being our humanity and compassion.
The chart refers to individual motivation, but I believe you can apply it to India as a whole. The fact is, regardless of where we find ourselves on this pyramid as individuals; as a nation, we are still at the bottom.
According to a research by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) [http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4646e.pdf], an estimated 194.6 million people in India were undernourished (approximately 15.2% of the population) between 2014 and 2016.
Now while that number may have decreased overall from the early 1990s, that is still a lot of people. One in four children does not have enough to eat. Many die before they turn 5 years old. We do not look after our natural resources, we litter and we exhibit no moral obligation towards our environment.
Yet our gaze turns towards the politicians and the God men (to a lesser extent: Bollywood stars). If we hero worship them, we put them on pedestals. If we are from the other camp, we skewer them. We start and end wars, we torture and kill thousands and tens of thousands of people in their name or in that of something greater than ourselves. It doesn’t matter what – pick any silly cause, and we’re likely to have fought a war or incited some kind of violence over it.
We forget that a large proportion of our population does not have enough to eat. That we are destroying our environmental resources. That living in our capital city is as much a cancer risk as being a smoker. That our streets are filled with filth because many people have no civic sense.
Human rights violations are too common, be it subjecting suspected Kashmiri terrorists to torture so horrible that they never recover, or raping and brutally murdering women and babies on the street simply for being there, or racially motivated violence against people from the Northeast or of African descent usually just because they look different, or any of the other violence that has occurred in our recent history.
Whatever you think they have done or not done to deserve it, what gives anyone the right to torture or rape or murder in the name of an ideal? How does this serve any purpose? When we have people who are starving or we have a carcinogenic capital city, how can we possibly be so arrogant as decide that this is more important? Human life is worth more than concepts of spirituality or nationalism.
Over the last few days, parts of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab have been subject to riots and violence because a “Godman” has been convicted. Now, it’s not clear whether they are torching trains and inciting violence because they believe him to be innocent or simply because he is their leader, but neither really points to a better state of affairs. As a population, we are too quick to resort to destruction when things don’t go our way.
That we are a culture of idolizers and we put people up on pedestals is fine in itself. It is human to want to believe in something greater than oneself, to believe in a higher spiritual force, in a God (or several Gods), or want to be part of something. This is a role that religion plays for many. It is not wrong to want this or to worship; it is healthy. I do not criticize this, if that is what works for you.
But it is wrong to harm people or the planet in service of these things. It is not only hypocritical, it is morally and ethically wrong.
There is a clear line between inspiration and destruction. If you believe in God (or Gods) then chances are you believe (s)he created all that is around you. How can you be so sure what it is that (s)he wants? If (s)he created everything he created the rest of humanity along with you.
Now why would (s)he ask you to destroy it?
Let’s focus on feeding our hungry and saving our natural resources first. Once we’ve secured those, we can move on to higher stages in the pyramid. We can work together to find solutions to the more complex social issues and come to a compromise rather than all or nothing. We can tackle issues one at a time, and build a better state of affairs for ourselves. Then we won’t need to worry about how to ensure everyone has national pride, or stands up for the national anthem, it’ll be there within us, organically, and unabashed.
The point is, if our Gods are so important to us, let’s protect their creations not burn them.
– By Mira Saraf, for IWI*
*If you wish to write for IWI, head to our submissions page.