Throughout human history there is there was an element of untouchability that we applied to our fellow human beings, the belief that certain people were beneath others the fact their mere touch would be polluting. Such a system existed in India through caste, in japan as Burakumin, and often was culturally socially and religiously enforced. While this system was wrong, that is not to say untouchables do not exist. The true untouchable is not born as such, nor made to be. The true untouchable pollutes not with his body but with his mind his surroundings, he who chooses to divide our beautiful humanity, defiles the ideologies of unity to ones of division. The true untouchable is a product of choice, for he who is the one who chooses to hate.
Yesterday would have been the 258th birthday of a great hero of mine. William Wilberforce was a MP for Kingston upon Hull, first elected at age 21 while still a student University of Cambridge. While his early years in government were unremarkable, it would be later activities that earn him great acclaim. Beginning in 1787 he would wage a long campaign within parliament and outside of it, to end what is among the worst cruelties man has ever inflicted upon his species, the practice of slavery. Being informally involved with Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Wilberforce along with others would push for the abolishment of the practice of taking Africans from Africa and shipping them world wide for the purposes of slavery. This would be regarded as one of the first grassroots campaigns for human rights organized by people from a wide spectrum of society. The society hoped that by abolishing the trade in slaves that it would lead to a gradual end slavery through reduced supply. As part of his involvement he would in 1789 introduce the bill that would abolish slavery, it laid delayed for two years, where it was defeated by a vote of 163- 88. In a testament to his personal strength and conviction he would engage in campaign the lead to the successful 1807 Slave trade act that was passed by a vote 283-16. While this was an accomplishment in of itself he would continue to pursue the end of slavery in of itself through parliamentary action. In 1825 Wilberforce who was never in good health, at the age of 66 resigned from Parliament. He would still continue his involvement with Anti-Slavery societies, these efforts would lead to the introduction of Bill for the Abolition of Slavery in 1833 which sought to end the practice of slavery throughout the British Empire, that would result in the freeing of 800,000 slaves. Wilberforce having heard that the Bill would passed by Parliament and become law, would die just three days later on 29th of July 1833.
Of course people love rags to riches stories, but like many of the things humanity has claims to love it is a fantasy and a falsehood. It is fantasy that a person has the ability to change their present condition through hard work alone, it is an ideal but not a reality. The far more bitter truth is, that in this era of increasing inequality that people are not as able to change their economic conditions, that if not already, in the coming decades we will come to witness more people that will be born poor, live poor and die poor. That increasingly firmness of economic status and the discrimination based upon it will seem no less unjust as discrimination based upon race or gender. Human Rights as I have studied spoke much of the threat it posed to both political and legal systems and in turn changed them. That was human rights of the past, The human rights of the future will be a threat and bulwark to the economic system. Some would say that such a stance is revolutionary, perhaps it is, for like the sun or the hands of clock, revolutions are inevitable. That is but the nature of progress slow but unstoppable and like a wind when it blows, economic systems have a choice either to be build a windmill or build a wall.
Most people speak of the awesome power of love, yet most also know it in limited amounts. Most in their lifetimes eventually to love another, learning to speak to another’s soul perhaps move it. And yet every now and them have come men and women, that learn to not simply love another, but all others as well. In possessing that uncommon love for humanity, they do not speak to nor move just the soul of another, no rather they come to speak and come to shift the very souls of peoples, nations and societies.
So today is the day of Diwali, a day of celebration marked millions of Hindus and Sikhs worldwide. While it is widely known for themes of family get together’s, going to religious and the setting off fireworks. Sikhs however we should not neglect the history behind it. For today marks the day marks the release from prison, the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind. He was wrongfully imprisoned by the Intolerant Mughal empire of India, along with him were 52 innocent Rajahs. Eventually the Emperor had a change of heart and allowed that the Guru be released. The Guru refused unless others were freed as well, the emperor conceded saying that however many Rajahs could hold his coat could leave with him, in the knowledge that this would limit them to a few. The Guru instead had a special cloak woven with 52 corners, and proceeded to lead all 52 Rajahs out of the prison to freedom. I believe in that spirit of freedom and opposition to tyranny and injustice is what Diwali should be about. Such an act was necessary then as it now for tyranny and injustice still continue to this very day, as is the need to stand against it. So instead of people spending money on sweets which are not only bad for health as Punjabi community continues to struggle with diabetes and heart disease, I propose that we ought to use that money and donate Amnesty International. an organization that’s symbol is a lit candle an organization whose motto is “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” not unlike the purpose of the lit divas of our faith, but most importantly it is a group that perpetuates the fight for the rights of the wrongly imprisoned, stand opposed to injustices that our fellow human beings continue to face. Its good that we celebrate the greats deeds of our storied past, rather than merely celebrate we ought to be a reflection of that in our present, and build upon that foundation laid so long ago rather than merely admire it.