I learned about the plight of the world’s oppressed peoples while I lived in India for 20 years doing cross-cultural work. India is home to 750 million people considered to be low caste and “untouchable” — people who are poor, marginalized and vulnerable. They have few rights.
India’s minority women also face radical oppression. Women are sometimes burned on their husband’s funeral pyre, and the dowries their families must pay at the time of their weddings are equivalent to them being sold to the highest bidder.
Religious minorities in India also face violent attacks and are often not granted the right to worship freely.
Low caste children learn to steal food at an early age, just to survive.
Young women commit suicide to escape abusive marriages.
Peaceful religious gatherings turn into riots when worshipers are prevented from practicing their faith.
I learned that India’s oppressed are desperate. They have no resources, no savings. Financial and food insecurity wreaks havoc on their mental state. All their energy is spent providing for their physical needs. There is no assistance, no alternative to this hellish existence.
We are left, then, with desperation and its consequences. And this is not just something found in India. Every nation on earth, even the wealthy ones, have desperate oppressed people clinging to whatever shred of hope they have for survival.
Desperation is a cyclical plague within society. Desperation breeds desperation. The plight of minorities in our world is grave. Survival is their prime focus.
When something goes wrong, when something threatens this survival, they are overcome with desperation. All civility is thrown out the window because good manners no longer matter. In that moment of grasping for life, oppressed communities will do whatever it takes to make ends meet. They will march and shout and riot to make their voices heard. Passivity is no longer a luxury they can afford. Passivity is a luxury of the elite.
A normally mild and gentle mother will kill to save her child.
A normally gracious and generous father will steal to feed his family.
A normally passionate teen will become a disruption when he no longer feels seen or heard.
This desperation runs deep inside the souls of the oppressed. It touches every part of them, every interaction they have, every decision they make. The elite cannot judge, because those with power cannot understand the powerless. The privileged cannot imagine life without their privilege. Building awareness and standing in solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters is of paramount importance. And this begins with empathy.
Empathy requires the privileged to step out of their secure realities and lean in to the marginalization of the most vulnerable. We must work to create authentic dialogue and mutual respect between races, genders and religious affiliations. Relate to their struggles. Feel their pain. Stand by them while they suffer. Love them and embrace them in their brokenness.
The oppressed of this world want dignity and pride that is rooted in their truth, their identity, their distinctiveness. They want to be heard, seen and understood. Only then can they receive power that will ease their desperation.
But until that time, the oppressed of this world will be desperate and afraid. Threatened, they may lash out in actions fueled by desperation and fear. To end these desperate acts, which often lead to violence and death, the community must unite in love and acceptance — to listen to, learn from and embrace one another to find a way forward. Stand strong, stand together, stand united as one.
Leah Kadwell lives in Shoreview.