The past few years have seen a lot of progress (or should I simply say “changes”) in the national scene and the local scene. India secured its place among the ten largest economies in the world. The magazine India Today claimed that there are over 1, 00,000 families earning Rs. 50 lakh to over a crore each year.
The 30th anniversary issue of the same magazine celebrated the wealth and the glamour of India. India has never had it this good. Some say that the reason behind George Bush’s programme for Americans to learn Hindi is so that they can keep abreast with the awakening economic giants. And so they say India is shining. In a country that judges the value of a person by the income and the caste categories, yes, there is a light shinning. But its shadow has never been darker than this.
The other side reveals that India has 180 million families. Discussing the income of just one lakh among the 180 million is not relevant to the ground realities. According to Outlook, deaths by starvation in India outnumber other countries. While jobs increased and the number of millionaires shot up, thousands of farmers took their own lives because of poverty, debt and joblessness in the same year. The lesson to be learned here is that the maintenance of an affluent lifestyle is creating havoc among the poorer section of the society.
Giving you figures and discussing the social condition is beyond the scope of this small article. But this is just to share with you some concerns as we watch our society progress, or should we simply say, change. (Because to use the word progress means that a lot of good is being achieved. Measuring with a mere economic scale will simply show a change, for better or for worse.) This growing disparity between the rich and poor is seen not only in the cities of India, but is evident even in the town and state we live in.
As Christians who read the Bible, we cannot ignore that the Bible quite consistently talks about our responsibility to the poor. The laws laid down in the Old Testament reveals a lot of concern for the poor and weak in the society. But sadly, many Christians have followed the Sadducee-iacal approach to the Bible, - they choose to believe the teachings that appeals to them and leave out the inconveniently and difficult ones.
Unlike the Indian society, we boast of a classless Naga society. This is true. Some years ago it was not so difficult to be poor in the Naga society. But I believe not anymore. One cannot help but wonder at the gap that is increasing between those who can spend and those who cannot. During a visit to an interior village in Nagaland, the village chief gathered our team together and admonished us to reflect on why there is so much disparity among our own people. “Can you do anything about it?” he asked. In another equally remote village, I once gave a fifty-rupee note to an old lady. She murmured something. The interpreter smiled and told me that it’s been a long time she had some money in her hands.
Unfortunately we don’t have to go to the interior parts to encounter the less fortunate. The state capital or any other equal town is enough. Not that I am jealous of anyone making a lot of money. If fact I truly pity those who get rich overnight at the expense of people like the poor old lady to whom I gave the fifty-rupee note. One’s wealth is one’s business. But if the lifestyle we are living and maintaining is contributing to widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and if it is contributing to the growing woes of the poor, I doubt if that can be considered a Christian lifestyle. One requirement of following Jesus is to sell everything and give it to the poor. Oohh!! So, so difficult! We may try to explain it away theologically, but it’s still there staring at us in the face.
It frightens me to think that many of the advances in our society could be contributing to the woes of the poor. For example, what about the privatisation and commercialisation of education and healthcare services? Some schools are charging an exorbitant amount for admission. Oh yes, the issue of Quality is there and it is admirable. But quality is confined only those who can afford it and therefore the less fortunate will have to settle for the lesser-quality and even pass it on to their next generation. There are many bright students in the interiors parts who dream of studying in Kohima.
But that dream hardly actualises because the main reason, they say, is money. Actually, the real issue is not the school or the hospital. My reason for discomfort is this - I don’t feel very comfortable living in a society where the options of the rich are getting multiplied everyday, while the options of the poor are running out. I don’t believe that the foundation of this society is a Christian one. Though its face looks Christian, its feet, if not made of clay, is certainly in clay.
The media’s portrayal of this state of our society is also not very helpful. The divorce of a celebrity couple in Hollywood or Bollywood gets more attention even in our local media than the realities of life that most Nagas in the villages and other parts are enduring.
Finally I reiterate the question of the village chief: “What can you do about it?” It’s enough to say, as many church ministers do in funerals, this world is not our home and if we can somehow go through it, heaven awaits us. No. This is God’s world and He expects us to live well and leave it well. It is also not enough to pay the school fees or distribute cash once in five years as politicians do, and then blame they public for being unscrupulously greedy. Surely the problem is deeper than that.
We need a change of our mindset that will eventually influence our lifestyle. As a Christian, my conviction is that my lifetstyle should not contribute to this disparity between the rich and poor. This lifestlye can only be the result of a mindset that sees life as being a part of the world and yet apart from it. All the heroes of the Bible planned and lived their lives as though they were going to live forever, but their values and wealth were firmly placed in eternity.
One day the Lord will require each of us to give an account of ourselves. He will ask what we have done to feed the hungry, or if we have reached out to those in need and those oppressed and ignored. As Jesus said in Matthew 25, “inasmuch as ye did it not for one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Before that day comes, let’s make sure we have a good answer to give.