Thursday, May 17, 2012

The dynamics of oppression

So, think about this! The British oppressed India and many other colonies for decades. Blacks were suppressed by Whites; Hitler subjugated the Jews, Brahmins looked down upon the lower castes, and this tale of segregation and oppression could go on. And if you look closely, oppression is one feature that has transcended the barriers of race, country, caste, gender and what not. It is gut-wrenching to process the fact that it does not take long for the oppressed to become the oppressor.

And what is more disturbing is that this chain reaction continues and has been ever existent in humanity. What changes is the pretext under which the oppression is conducted. Anybody who has read “The Help” or “The Color Purple”, or for that matter any book on segregation scenarios, would have noticed one underlying theme to it. Of course, everybody expects the white-black discrimination, but what takes you by surprise is the casual mention of black men abusing their women. What is also shocking is that the children in such households grow up witnessing all this, and fine tune their minds to recognize who is stronger in a certain situation. Between a white man and a black man, the white man is; between a black man and black woman, the black man; between a beautiful white woman and a Plain Jane, the pretty one; between a white woman and a white child, the white woman,  and so on and so forth. And these very children grow up to become the adults who decide which part of the discrimination spectrum they want to be in, either they are discriminated against or they are the discriminators.

Over the years, the reasons for oppression have changed, but the pain, humiliation and fear have simply traversed the generations. Although, the racial oppression is almost in oblivion, there are others that have come up. The most prominent, being the one between the rich and the poor. Although, discrimination is not expressed as openly as before, there are subtle ways through which the strong oppress the weak. And strength could mean power, money or some other ridiculous parameter. Oppression does not necessarily mean physical abuse, it could mean limiting the freedom of another person, it could mean having different standards for yourself and the other person, it could mean treating the other person as though he/she does not have human needs like you.

When you expect your maid to show up for work 7 days in a row, never to take leave and get upset with her if she does, it would be bordering oppression. If you get weekends off, and you have paid sick leave, how are the rules different for the maid, just because she might be weaker than you, in terms of money? When you look down upon people in a certain country, turn your nose down at them, you think you are too good for them, you might very well be in the mind-frame of oppressors. The roots of oppression arise, when the feeling of being unmatched and unparalleled sets upon a person or a group. The complacency of being much better prepares the person to suppress people without any guilt, because the feeling of being special justifies their inhuman acts, according to the oppressors.

So many of the dictators in history are debatable, but all of them were sure they were the best thing that could happen to the world. Hitler thought he was doing the world a favor by getting rid of a weaker race. And his self-proclaimed supremacy justified his abusive methods, in his eyes. During colonial times, the British, the French thought they were spreading out to the third-world countries and lending culture to them. In the process, paying no heed to the rampage caused. This ignorance was brought upon by the illusion that the world needed the English language and culture for betterment. A very common trait of oppressors: assuming that everybody else is needy and in search of a guide. Taking the liberty of deciding what is best for the oppressed class. New laws were introduced in colonies, presuming that a better life would be presented to the citizens. But, never were they asked for their opinion. Then, it might have seemed like a favor to the supposedly backward, but it would still be categorized under oppression.

When human rights are violated, it is oppression of humanity, and that is the common link between the different types of oppression: racial, gender-based or economic. Equality is a principle humans have never actually abided by. What I fail to understand is the fact that one man's weakness becomes another's source of power. And the fact that this starts reflecting at a young age is alarming. The advent of bullying could very well be a reflection of the need to gain primacy by quelling someone. The need to satisfy our ego is a deep-rooted necessity, and it is going to take much more than seminars on discrimination. Each person has to think for themselves and try to erase the lines, the imaginary lines Kathryn Stockett talks about in her book. With diversity becoming a common feature, it has become easier to accept different people as they are. It is essential for people to realize that a difference is not good or bad, it is just what it is: a difference. And different is what brings flavor to life!

The theme of the oppressed and the oppressor has been evident in myths, stories and movies, but it is time, we found ourselves a new topic to write about. Oppression of all kinds, be it on animals, children, women, blacks, poor, weak, lower castes is unfair and uncalled for. And one thing that humbles me is the reminder that I might be qualified to be the oppressor in one category, but I might also very well have to assume the role of the oppressed in a different category. So the elimination of these borders and imaginary thrones for the strong, would be in the best interest of humanity. Whether the oppressor is at fault or the oppressed is wrong for tolerating, is another discussion altogether. But, rather than debating on that, the new Mantra to globalization should be the desire to make people comfortable in their skins (both literally and metaphorically)!

Some weblinks that throw some more light on the theme of oppression:


  1. Loved 'The roots of oppression arise, when the feeling of being unmatched and unparalleled sets upon a person or a group. '

    True , Most of us in some way or the other would fall into the oppressed or the oppressor category...And the change you have mentioned has never happened in the history of mankind..Wonder if it ever will!! Brilliant Post!

    1. Thanks for appreciating the essence of the post! It is very difficult to train your mind to step out of this maze of inequality, but that change would have to be brought in individually, which eventually would reflect upon the society!

  2. Awesome post, Amruta. Oppression is indeed so rampant in the world now it's literally injected in our blood. It is now accepted the strong will oppress and the weak will tolerate. The weak, in turn, take their frustration out on someone weaker (in many cases the latter turn out to be wives and children).

    As someone has rightly said "The world is not a bad people because of a few evil people, but because of the silence of many good ones."

    1. Thanks Vishal! Very true about the silence of good people.... As important it is for the oppressors to stop, it is equally essential for the oppressed to stand up for themselves, which might not always be easy. But to break the chain reaction, every effort from each person is required.

  3. A very good topic & reliable deliberation,
    The ruler in any form or formation empowers
    the desire & will, ignoring the need..

    Scientifically a vertical movement,
    can cease, if the movement be made horizontal.
    Till then...what you narrated likely withstand.
    Well written & keep writing.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comments! I tried my best to pen down all sides to this phenomena. What you say is so true about the horizontal movement; what I am not so sure about is, whether, we should wait for the movement to happen or we should start changing our mindsets, one person at a time!
      Thank you again for dropping by and lending your thoughts. Discussion really helps to think more and write better!

  4. Interesting post Amrutha.
    My take would be that its human nature to want to control, and have power over those around us. We are made more of failings then admirable qualities. Human failing/s is something that I have always found glaringly obvious . We don't need to look far for the truth. Whether is History, Sociology, any of the sciences, or a simple and truthful self-introspection, we will find plenty of evidence to it. Hence we applaud a society that overcomes these failings; whether it be to oppress, or cause chaos in other ways.
    For example bullying. It begins at a very young age, and we cannot but help wondering "why". All of us a children have either bullied or have been bullied, we just prefer to forget about it.
    I guess at an individual level it is failings such as these and others, plus also the ability to overcome them,that make us 'Human'.

    1. Thanks Nilakshi! It is so true about the failings making us human. And over time, somehow we get used to these flaws and take them in our stride. That is where we go wrong I think, accepting that there are flaws is okay, but putting up with them is not! What do you think?

  5. This is a profound and thoughtful post. I believe humans are such quirky beings, they will always discover, invent or manufacture objects to be obsessed or prejudiced with. Somewhere, somehow, the 'chain reaction' goes on ad nauseam in a vicious circle. Mind you, I am not justifying negative emotions.I am just amazed at how visceral we can get. Are we the 'rational animal' we are touted to be?

    1. Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed reading this post. I am also thrilled that this post has opened up a lot of constructive debate.

      Are humans rational? That, I think, depends on how we view rationality. The fact that humans dislike change, and are comfortable with bias is because, we have a history of leading prejudiced lives. I guess, we find rationale in the commonality of things and not wanting to change them!

  6. I joined the WUC very recently. It was very interesting to read what u have written on a very genuine but less taken care of topic.


Would love to hear your thoughts!

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