Possibilities for Social Justice

A Post by Guest Author, Narada (Tony Sugden)

As a Yoga practitioner, first and foremost I look for clarity. When I find it, then when I am exposed to social injustice, there is a deep feeling that something is horribly wrong. I see my sisters and brothers, they are made of the same stuff as me, but many have nothing at all, many are hungry, many are getting by, but only just.

I personally have two imperatives. One is to understand. Everything. Because of this I practice Yoga and learn from a Teacher. The second is to find a way to serve my fellow humans who have very little. The stories hurt me  a lot… of war refugees that no-one wants, of kids starving, stories of the cruelty we humans inflict on each other. Most of the time I simply don’t know what to do (but see later). The problem is huge, immense. 

But look at what’s happening! When something moves people, when a momentum starts the innate goodness in the hearts of many starts to make itself felt. We know that there is gross injustice, we don’t like it, but for some reason we have been incabable of acting. (I think there are many reasons for this, and it’s insulting to that innate goodness to berate anyone for not acting, by taking some imagined moral high ground.)

Why did anyone ever think that Black Lives didn’t matter?

And so finally many people are saying enough is enough and this wonderful worldwide movement against racism has started up. May it continue. Why did anyone ever think Black Lives didn’t matter? Some people are on the bandwagon of course, but that’s ok. As long as we raise the profile of the fight. And it has been a fight in which many have died.

People have been mobilised so much that demos happen worldwide. There is no room for nuanced political discussion. No room for historical reasons and justifications. This is action time, and so far, it seems to be working.

How do you feel about the fact that 50% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of ONE percent of the people? And 10% of the world lives in extreme poverty, most of those now in sub-Saharan Africa.

So what about the equally huge issue of wealth inequality? Now that we see what we can achieve by expressing outrage at injustice, how do you feel about the fact that 50% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of ONE percent of the people. And 10% of the world lives in extreme poverty, most of those now in sub-Saharan Africa. (That’s defined as less than $1.90 per day – figures from World Bank, IMF, UN).
Most of my friends in Eastern Zambia live on a $0.50 per day if they have a job. Most in the Refugee camps don’t even have that. They are totally reliant on handouts. In Europe we helped them until we’d had enough of the sheer numbers pouring in. Then we closed the doors and shut them out of our minds, when we could have given them just a little that would help them build communities where the camps had been.

I hear that some people here are fed up with me banging on about poverty in Eastern Zambia / Malawi / Northern Mozambique. That doesn’t bother me. I will continue to bang on because my sisters and brothers could really do with some help. Especially now after lockdown. Those who had jobs have lost them. There is no money. People are going hungry. These are people like you and me. They love and laugh and are kind and help each other. My God we should be learning from them! I am supporting three extended families right now because the Zambian Kwacha has plunged in value, meaning my pound goes a long way. But it hurts that others that I’ve laughed with and shared food with, are now hungry.

These kids live in a traditional village, their mothers make money selling tomatoes and mushrooms (in season) at the roadside. Happy, but very poor.
Trying to make a few Kwacha selling tomatoes and mushrooms at the roadside.

What can we do. People come to teach the locals to ‘start their own business’. Trying to get  money from a community that has none, how absurd. Trying to create inequality to perpetuate the economic model that brought them to this sorry pass in the first place.

If the people who rail against injustice now, start to turn their attention to this inequality in wealth, we could develop so many ideas and models, informed by the people whose cultures have suffered because of economic exploitation. Money is never the answer, but there is such injustice in the distribution of wealth that actually, we do need some money in so many places. Or the equivalent. We need ideas people, building materials, training in self-sufficiency where the colonials have destroyed indigenous know-how. There is so much to do and so much we can do. All we need is the will, and then to take one step, which leads to the next….

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Narada (Tony Sugden) lives in Mandala Yoga Ashram (Where Swami Nishchalananda is the Director) and spends 3 months every year in a community in Eastern Zambia. He started by raising funds for a young deaf girl to get an education. Now he is creating work for some of his friends by funding building projects, and funding a cafe for other friends to run, feeding staff from the nearby bush hospital. He has founded a Yoga group which is thriving, despite having no mats, blocks or yoga trousers for the women. The Yoga group has people from Christianity (all varieties) and Islam learning alongside each other. He is working with one of the main Tribal Chiefs in the area to look at funding a School for the many deaf children out in the bush, also establishing cooperatives so an alternative economic model might allow people to have the necessities of life.

He is always looking for people to help with ideas, and especially with money, and on a very practical level, to help improve and develop the Yoga classes where people come to learn, also to ease their aching backs from field work. Because of the Coronavirus situation, many people in the community have lost their income so there is hunger amongst those who don’t have a field and therefore can’t harvest their own crop.

Longterm, we have to encourage people to start thinking about determining their own projects, their own futures without the charities, the aid workers, and the politicians.

Here’s a poem, written after the first time I saw people In Eastern province lose all their crop because of drought. (originally published on https://tonysugden.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/hey-lighten-up-man/)

What sort of a planet am I living on?
your value as a person, what you’re worth,
an accident of birth.

Those of us who ‘have’, have a starting point, 
should we so choose, to have more.
While the have-nots fall through the floor of the world.

How do you better yourself, improve your life,
when there isn’t even a starting point?

Becoming faceless. Or rather
just another one in a sea of faces.
I wring my hands at the enormity,
the scale. I exist, as a person.
These do not. They are the collective.
The refugees, the hungry, 
the swollen bellies and stick limbs,
the dispossessed,
the bombed, the drowned,
the dead children.

Victims of famine? of war?
No. Not really.
Victims of the politics of madness.
How did we let this happen?
How did we let this happen?

For a hungry child,
political parties are people making meaningless noises. 
Money given to charity is a new car for someone who is supposed to be helping them.
‘Beautiful People’ making movies about their emotional crises, utterly irrelevant.
Bankers, and other speculators, spending their stolen money, a slap in the face of mercy.

Nothing will change, 
unless people take back power from the elite, the super rich.
But we won’t.
Some say, because of this, our future as a species is dark indeed.
Because we put our fate into the hands of the power hungry, the corrupt,
the ones without vision except their own tunnel vision for personal profit.
The profit which, even with such animal cunning, they can’t take to their graves.
Their graves on which I would slow dance in the moonlight.

The only light, 
candle flame for sure, but a light nonetheless
Is the will of those who act, not necessarily to change,
maybe just to help.
Moved by compassion, individual acts
from the heart of one human being, to another.

Those who never turn their backs saying, ‘what problem?’

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