Dr. Shantanu Dutta
According to a report citing the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, 97 percent of Indians have been left poorer to a greater or lesser degree post Covid. That is most of the Indian population if the estimates are even reasonably accurate. Perhaps some of those reading this are part of this statistic. But one thing is certain. If we are getting to read this post, we are still definitely privileged. Someone on my Facebook feed made me aware of this. This person was conducting a survey of people, presumably in their social and digital circle to count how many people had died in their knowledge due to shortage of hospital beds in the first instance and subsequently due to a shortage of oxygen in the next instance. One of the respondents pointed out that doing a survey among Facebook account holders to determine these things was akin to doing a survey among the one eyed in a country of the blind. After all, although the system had failed everyone uniformly, it would be the digitally savvy with their Twitter hashtags who would have the upper hand in the infamous world of “juggad”. Privilege is often a blind spot; those who have it often fail to see it.
How do Christians cope with this blind spot for surely it is nobody’s case that Christians lack privilege? Not all Christians have privilege and some have it more than others but the question to ponder on is this – how do we react and respond to this. Certainly anybody reading this on a laptop or smartphone has this, though some may be better placed than others. I fear sometimes that the image that often fits best is that of the rich man in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Sometimes I think that I and many others are like the people described in Luke 16 – the man dressed in purple and fine linen, enjoying his comfort and privilege. His karma was not what he did but what he did not do. Abraham, addressing the man when both Lazarus and he are by his side; of course separated by a chasm, does not say that he was a cruel or exploitative person who fed off the beggar like a leech sucks blood. Just that he had had his season; now it was the time of Lazarus. During their time on earth, the rich man never even noticed Lazarus as they possibly moved in entirely different circles and their worlds never collided. That is the consequence of the cocoon of privilege ; we move in different worlds and those worlds do not collide or connect.
Although Christians as a community are known for their works of caring in many fields, it is also a fact that for many of us, the world of the migrant, the peasant and the worker is an entirely different world and one which we have never ever inhabited or will ever feel comfortable in. In the story of the banquet shared by the Lord in Luke 14, the invited guests on the list are all unable to attend for what would appear to be perfectly legitimate reasons – one has to take care of his land, another of his animals and yet another newly married man – of his spouse. All perfectly legitimately things to do, except that in God’s way of thinking it would seem, as circumstances change, our lens should too.
Most of us reading this blog have been groomed and informed by books and higher education. Most of us have been given the privilege and comfort of living in houses and homes where we do take certain facilities for granted and are comfortable about the security and comfort of our gated communities. I have certainly experienced privilege and know in one way or the other way about what it means to use privilege as currency in and this culture and could say that for nearly all of my friends. Although it is my moral and spiritual responsibility to do everything within my power to right this inherent inequality, I haven’t done much. We have wallowed in the sins of privilege where the playing field is inherently uneven. Given all my emotional, physical, psychological, economic and spiritual privilege, I should be asking more often – “How am I uniquely called to bless the world?”
But this is not just about me. How are you privileged? How are you called to bless the world? Outside of the Bible, I think of St. Francis, the namesake of the current Pope, who also had access to a lot of wealth. His father was a very successful man financially, and Francis was the only son. But Francis rejected it – his inheritance, his wealth and status – and evolved into the saint so widely revered today. Francis did not allow wealth or privilege block him from becoming a disciple of Jesus. We need to learn to do the same.
Dr. Shantanu Dutta is a Doctor, Blogger, Author. He serves as the Director of ‘Thought Leadership Initiatives’ at IJM. He is based in Delhi and is also the Chairperson of TRACI.