Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Survival of the fittest era is passe

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Editor,

The theory of “survival of the fittest” must be made unfit in a civilised society but it cannot be done as long as injustice exists. Survival of the fittest means survival of the fittest brutes be it in a jungle or in a primitive society as well as in a feudal society or in a capitalist police state. But fortunately for us, after the emergence of welfare states such a brute condition for survival is slowly getting replaced by justice.

A welfare state tries to create a level playing field for all of its citizens by taking extra care of the downtrodden, the poor, children, women, senior citizens, Dalits, minorities and differently abled persons who have been exploited by the society.

In the journey of evolution – after minerals, plants and animals; human beings arrived. Now human beings should realise that they are to do better than the animals – not by fighting like them like in popular action movies – but by redefining the word ‘fitness’ with humanism and empathy and to create a society where there will be no place for injustice.

A modern civilised society has been upgrading its outlook on a person’s disability. It changed the adjective for such a person from ‘disabled’ to handicapped’. Then again replaced ‘handicapped’ with a more honourable ‘physically challenged’. Again corrected the negativity associated with the words ‘physically challenged’ by replacing it with ‘differently-abled’.

Now we will focus our attention on two persons who have not only justified the terminology ‘differently abled’ but proved that differently-abled persons could even be more able than many abled persons.

First take a look at the life of Helen Keller. She was afflicted with an illness at the tender age of 19 months that made her blind and deaf. Under the guidance of her teacher Sullivan, she learned to feel objects and associate them with words spelled out by finger signals on her palm. With the help of raised words on cardboard, she then learned to read sentences and also to make sentences by arranging words in a frame. After that she learned to lip-read by placing her fingers on the lips and throat of the speaker while the words were spelled out for her. After her graduation, she began writing and wrote several books. She was not just a famous author but also a human rights activist. She surpassed many abled persons not only as a writer but also in raising one’s voice against injustice. She achieved success in her fight to improve the treatment of the deaf and the blind and to remove the differently abled persons from asylums.

Now from the past America, we will move to the present India and meet another differently-abled person deaf wrestler Virender Singh Yadav. In the Summer Deaflympics, he won 3 gold medals in 2005, 2013 and 2017 and 1 bronze medal in 2009. Moreover, in the World Deaf Wrestling Championship, he got a gold in 2016, a silver in 2008 and a bronze in 2012. A documentary film on his life titled ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ (The Mute Wrestler) has been made. He received the Padma Shri in 2021 and the Arjuna Award in 2015.

This success story shows that he translated his differently abled potential into reality. But it did not end there. Just like Helen Keller, he too is deaf and more importantly like her, he has the ability to speak against injustice. He voiced concerns about the way some of our daughter wrestlers had been treated. He did it when many abled persons preferred to turn a deaf ear to them.

He decided to return his Padma Shri to show solidarity with the country’s top wrestlers who were fighting against the election of an alleged loyalist of a sexual harassment accused BJP parliamentarian. He said, “The parents of the daughters would be concerned that if an Olympic medallist is not given justice, how will we get it? The PM, Vice President and President should all answer why this happened… This raises a lot of questions on the justice system and democratic structure.”

After the constant protest, the Union Sports Ministry suspended the Wrestling Federation of India. Like Helen Keller, Virender Singh Yadav showed that in future the theory of survival of the fittest would itself become totally unfit in a civilised society.

Yours etc.,

Sujit De,

Kolkata

Ethics must guide human actions

Editor

I write to express my deep appreciation for Sujit De’s letter, titled “Empathy, a much needed human quality,” (ST Dec 27, 2023). Like all his letters, this one too was full of a much-needed idealism. In these times of ruthless utilitarianism and the brutal pragmatism that has come in the wake of technology, we need idealism. Indeed, we need institutions of empathy more than those of eminence. Indeed “a society needs good human beings rather than highly intelligent serial killers or extremely greedy, unscrupulous business tycoons.”

A senior monk of the Ramakrishna Mission once observed that America has a “rare sensitivity to ethics.” I have always admired America for this ethical awareness, which lies deep in the American soul and in the collective consciousness of this nation. Expressing itself through a refined inner awareness of ethics — this ethical sense comes from within. Not from formal school education, not from homes, and certainly not from the culture. If anything, American school education is increasingly utilitarian, with little to no moral content. Perhaps a sign of divine providence — to protect this land of temptations from losing its soul — this moral awareness is all the more remarkable, given the terrible worldliness of American culture. Why this sense of ethics does not translate to foreign policy or to resist the tycoons and lobbyists who turn this democracy into a plutocracy — is a confounding mystery and a different question.

I wish for India this “rare sensitivity to ethics.” Without this ethical sense we cannot expect to see the empathy that Sujit De speaks of. Today the Indian subcontinent is a landscape of religion without ethics. Far better to be ethical without religion than to be religious without ethics. Instead of focusing on space trips and hi-tech theatrics, the nation should focus on building character and inculcating a strong sense of everyday applied ethics — especially in the youth.

Yours etc.,

Deepa Majumdar,

Via email

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