Ending Victimization, Claiming Empowerment

The Taliban have exploited class differences to gain control over the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The Dalit people, known as the "untouchables" in India’s caste-based social system, are throwing off oppressive discrimination to claim liberation.

These seemingly unrelated stories are woven together by a single subject, a web of victimization. How people deal with victimization can be liberating or oppressive.

Claiming victimization reinforces victimization. Even when it’s true, focusing on  being a victim sets a course for more victimization and in a divided and dangerous world it’s a recipe for violence and death.

Class differences in Pakistan are stark. Children of the privileged attend private schools that are well-maintained and staffed with qualified instructors. They have books and materials necessary for learning. Less affluent children, if they go to school, may go to rundown, overcrowded classrooms lacking books, supplies and taught by less qualified instructors. The madrases for young boys are well-documented. They are the only schooling some young men receive. Education is only one example of the disparities of class.

This isn’t unique to Pakistan, of course. Unequal educational opportunity exists across the world, even in the United States, so it’s not a knock against Pakistan. But the situation there illustrates how the Taliban shrewdly used victimization rooted in class to frame the social reality and exploit it for their own ends.

It’s a reminder that social injustice is a breeding ground for exploitation and civil unrest. Thus, it’s not merely an issue to be left at the doorstep of political systems, it’s about human development and, in a deeper sense, it’s about spiritual values.

And that leads to the second story, a report by Maurice Malanes on the Dalit Panchayat Movement. The Dalit people are known as the "untouchables" in India’s caste-based social system. The name itself evolved from Hindi and means oppressed or crushed, according to Malanes.

Dalit theology is seeking to reverse an oppressed psyche that reinforces an inferiority complex. For more than three thousand years the Dalits have been exploited including being pressed into unpaid, forced labor.

Dalit theology "concentrates all its energy on the tremendous potentials that lay hidden within the Dalit community and were never allowed to come up," according to Dr. Jyothi Raj.

The Dalits are claiming strength, not victimization. They are creating social and cultural change through theology. The Dalit movement is supported by an ecumenical base including the Christian Conference of Asia, the World Council of Churches and Lutheran World Federation.

At its core the Christian gospel addresses the sacredness of human personality. When Jesus told people that not a sparrow falls that God does not know (Matt:10:29), he was speaking about human dignity. This remark was about disenfranchisement and lack of recognition. Sparrows were as common in Jesus’ day as today, and they are unremarkable, brown, small birds. His point was clear to those who heard him.

In that social context these were words of empowerment. In related narratives Jesus asked his followers to serve others and give to the poor. What’s interesting is that Jesus combined teaching about self-awareness with a call to service which is the capacity to act on your own on behalf of others.

Victimization focuses on pathology, not strength, and lays responsibility for behavior on "the other." It detracts from the strengths and capacities of the victimized which is all a disadvantaged individual or group can change.

Self-determination and self-differentiation are the end results of self-awareness and self-assertion. To end victimization people must claim empowerment.

One Response to “Ending Victimization, Claiming Empowerment”

  1. Poonam April 22, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Agree with you 100%. This is the only possible solution. It has to come from inside. I had a looong discussion with a friend this Saturday PM on a similar topic – communalism in India and how political parties are using “victimization” apporach to seek votes. I told him I am glad not to be in India right now since I would not want to vote for any of the parties.

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