How does one begin writing a piece that they know signifies the end? I’m not sure, so I’d rather set aside the sentiments of farewell and get right to it.
Recently, I keep trying to ignite a fire of passionate anger that I know ought to be there—usually it stutters in the winds of complacency, flickering ambivalently. Ever so often, it catches on to a particularly volatile substance thrown its way—a video filmed in desperation by family members tired of running from one hospital to another, news of heinous and brutal custodial killings by the police in Tuticorin, images of graphs that rise, fall, and curve at all the wrong places—and flares to life. Fuelled to greater heights by a sort of helpless frustration, it doesn’t know what to do with itself. And so it turns to rage.
Of late, it seems like the fire isn’t within me but without. I sit in my bedroom like a waiting duck, watching fires of differing magnitudes blaze across the towns, cities, and countries of the world on big and small rectangular boxes. Another notification on my phone. A documentary waiting to be watched on the laptop. A debate waging on, inconsiderate of listeners and their eardrums, in the background on the TV. The flames are all around me, searing my skin with the heat of their apathy. I struggle to articulate the deeply disturbed part of me:
“Why (are our public welfare systems dysfunctional)?”
“How (can anyone be so inhumane)?”
“Who (is actually in control)?”
Fiery talons lick at my brain from directions I cannot see as if taunting me, “What can you do about it?”
It’s a good question––a complicated and hard one that seems easy enough on the surface. “Nothing, really,” would make for a reasonable answer that would, for some time, absolve the conscience of its guilt.
But silence is no less political than speech, is it?
We may be exhausted from the fires blazing around us, but we can choose to douse them with water and shut ourselves off as and when we please. We’re not the ones standing in the centre, being engulfed by the inferno with no easy escape in sight.
So what can you and I do about the injustice we observe in the world around us?
I believe learning, separating facts from fiction, and conversing among each other are the first steps. The more we notice injustice when it happens and refuse to let it be drowned out or brushed under the carpet, the more we pressurise the powers that be to right the wrongs committed. To be an active citizen, it is important to read, engage, and question, while listening to and amplifying the stories and voices of the marginalised, underprivileged and the unheard. In the era of the internet, there are many tools to help that don’t actually require us to do much: a petition signed with the press of a button, a link reshared to multiple contacts within seconds, and if within your means, a donation made to organisations already working on a problem.
But here’s where it gets tricky––how many issues is an individual supposed to care about? How many fires can we pour a drop of water into? What about the burn scars left on our mental and social well-being?
I personally take issue with waxing eloquence on privilege guilt––see Sharing and (self-)caring by Rega Jha––and speaking up or donating simply to feel good about ourselves. Fighting all forms of injustice we see in our society is essential work, but work that must be done with purpose, not the desire to soothe misplaced moral guilt. However, even if we’re motivated by the latter, it’s not an inherently bad thing. The benefits of our impact can vastly outweigh our intent––personal discomfort is what drives mass movements forward.
At the same time, I believe that to create real, meaningful change, each of us should choose our long-term battles. In December 2019, well before we realised how 2020 was going to upend the world as we know it, Hasan Minhaj of Patriot Act fame released an episode called, “How To Survive 2020” where he asked viewers to “close a few tabs.” Now, I’m terrible at closing tabs. At any point in time, I have tens of tabs open on multiple browser windows, till I get overwhelmed and close them all in one go. That’s similar to how we keep consuming upsetting news after horrifying news after tragic news––until it all gets a bit too much for our minds to handle and we retreat into our insulated bubbles.
Instead, it might be better to identify one or two causes and engage with them deeply––read, donate monthly, initiate conversations, be the one writing petitions, and more. I’m not saying don’t look at the other tabs or ignore when one of them has a glaring pop-up warning that you must react to––but don’t keep them all open all the time.
On another note, this is probably the last editorial I will pen for Reflections. Starting this magazine was a risk that I plunged headfirst into, and what a ride it has been. I am proud of the platform that we have built. It’s gratifying to see all the issues we have made together, some focused on pressing social issues while others a place for whimsical, passionate musings, yet each brought to life by the myriad reflections (oops) and personalities of so many young people. I’m prouder, still, that Reflections will continue to grow, improve, and foster creative expression beyond my time in High School. More than anything, I am excited about what’s to come because the future may be unclear, but it is in good hands.
I hope you enjoy this issue!