Can individuals, by their actions, cause a change in entrenched systems and practices that are protected by law and backed by the society?
I would like to talk about two recent incidents in this post, which show how individuals and their actions can kickstart a public debate, creating mass awareness and bringing simmering discontent into the open. The lesson I’m trying to draw is that individuals do have the power to initiate a re-look at the status quo, if they have the courage to withstand a cacophony of criticism.
A recent special report on ‘Religion in Public Life’ in The Economist, talks of the religious violence in Nigeria, due to clashes between its Muslims and Christians. Followers of both religions are about equal in number, but while the north of the country is predominantly Muslim, the south is mainly Christian. About 20,000 people have been killed in the violence since 1990, says the report. But now, a Catholic Archbishop and a local Imam are trying to put an end to this violence. Both of them go together to the place where there has been an outbreak of violence and try to sort it out through their personal intervention. The Archbishop’s initiative continues in the face of opposition from fellow Christians who resent his meetings with the Imam and his visits to mosques.
The second news I want to present in this post is about Lilliana. Lilliana has been in the news in the US because she is a symbol of the debate over illegal immigrants in the country.
Lilliana, a Mexican, illegally crossed the US border in 1998, after failing to secure a student visa she had applied for. She soon got a job at a corn packing facility. In 1999 she married and applied to become a permanent resident of the USA. In 2003, Lilliana got a work permit for a year. In 2004, she was told that she was ineligible for permanent residency and could be deported any time. In September 2007, she got a formal letter of deportation. She sought and got sanctuary in a church in California. Her case has aroused much public sentiment with voices across the nation both supporting and opposing her deportation.
The Archbishop and Lilliana may or may not be able to render the change they seek directly, but they have definitely set the stage for a larger, more informed debate on the issues or causes they represent. Hopefully, instead of polarizing society, such a debate will throw up various ways of looking at the problems, and hence, various solutions to the problems.