Pots and kettles

A customer and I had just completed a long discussion in his factory. Since it was our first meeting, he insisted that he would treat me to lunch. As we were walking towards his car, the talk turned to the building collapse in Thane in which over 70 persons died, and the reports of a nexus between builders, officials, police and politicians.

Very passionately, my customer said, “These scoundrels should be hanged! They know these buildings will collapse and kill the occupants, but all they are interested in is making money! If a person can be hanged for killing one victim, why shouldn’t these guys be hanged for killing dozens of people?”

“Who, in your opinion, is most guilty?” I asked.

Without any hesitation, my customer replied, “The builders, of course! They increase their profits by making concrete with more sand and less cement. They know it’s dangerous, but why will they bother? Their lives are not at stake. Only the people who buy their flats risk their lives. These builders are mass-murderers!”

To change the subject, I said, “Let’s not talk about them. Tell me, what kind of food are you treating me to today?”

He laughed and replied, “Sir, I am not a sophisticated person like you. I am a pure vegetarian, teetotaller and non-smoker. So, please forgive this simpleton for making you suffer an ordinary vegetarian meal without any drinks or hookah. Is a Rajasthani Thali OK for you? Or would you prefer something else?”

“Rajasthani Thali would be great! Have you never tried non-vegetarian food, alcohol or tobacco, even when you were young?” I asked.

Clearly enjoying the attention, he replied, “Never! Sir, these are our family values. We are very principled people. Apart from our simple lifestyle, we have a tradition of contributing at least 10% of our profits to charity. We are very grateful to God for his kindness, and we try to do something for society. We are not like these useless builders who only want to make money, even if it means their sub-standard construction leads to so many deaths!”

Again wanting to change the subject, I asked, “I remember you told me that you were the first person in your family to venture into the engineering industry. So, what business has your family been in before that?”

“We are in the chewing tobacco industry,” he declared, and proudly told me the name of the brand owned by his family.

This guy had been ranting about “useless builders who only want to make money”, and had labelled them as “mass-murderers”! But he had no qualms about enjoying the profits made by his family by selling carcinogenic chewing tobacco, which also leads to a large number of deaths. On the contrary, he was claiming to be virtuous on account of contributing 10% of these profits to charity!

A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black!

I wanted to ask him many questions, but I thought it would be an exercise in futility. Hence, I did not react.

Later, I wondered: Did I do the right thing by keeping quiet? Would it really have been an exercise in futility? Or did I keep quiet only to avoid antagonising my customer?

Whatever the real reason for my keeping quiet that day, I think I should have spoken up. If not anything, I would have poked his self-righteousness!

I am reminded of these words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

No more hypocrisy!

Many years back, my uncle’s colleague was in tears when he described the unreasonable demands made by his daughter’s parents-in-law before, during and immediately after the wedding. My uncle felt really bad that all he could do was to offer his colleague a shoulder to cry on. I remember my uncle giving us a detailed description of the unreasonable demands and telling us how the bride was shocked and disgusted by the behaviour of her parents-in-law.

A few months later, my uncle attended the wedding of the same colleague’s son. My uncle was dismayed to observe his colleague torturing his daughter-in-law’s parents, making almost exactly the same unreasonable demands that his daughter’s parents-in-law had made. What pained my uncle, and all of us, was the fact that his colleague’s daughter, who had been shocked and disgusted by the behaviour of her parents-in-law, seemed to enjoy the spectacle of her parents doing the same things that her parents-in-law had done. Her shock and disgust seemed to have vanished into thin air!

This kind of thing happens all the time.

We are shocked and disgusted when we, or our loved ones, are victims of any form of discrimination.

But how do we react when we, or our loved ones, are perpetrators of the same form of discrimination?

Does our attitude towards any sort of discrimination depend on whether we gain or lose by such discrimination?

At the workplace, all of us like our seniors to treat us as equals, but don’t many of us love to boss over our juniors?

How many parents can claim that they genuinely try to treat their daughters-in-law just like they treat their daughters?

Women belonging to ‘upper caste’ families may complain about gender discrimination, but do they speak out against caste discrimination?

How many of us try to ensure that the economically weaker persons in our lives are treated with dignity?

Do we discriminate against certain persons or groups, particularly when we think nobody else will know about it and/or when we think we can get away with it?

Are we shocked and disgusted when we, or our loved ones, are perpetrators of discrimination?

Or are we shocked and disgusted only when we, or our loved ones, are victims of discrimination?

Let us all try to remove all kinds of discrimination, irrespective of whether we, or our loved ones, are victims or perpetrators.

Let us stop being hypocrites.