Fifteen years back, I was Sports Captain at my school in India. This was my first experience of formal leadership that had numerous positive effects on my life. However, there was something unique I experienced during my captaincy that makes me go back to it even now.
I was not the only Sports Captain in my school. As a rule, the school had two Captains – a girl and a boy. Both were elected through a voting system. The roles and duties included representing school in various sports tournaments, coaching and training of students, and leading school parades on important occasions such as Independence Day.
In my first lesson on how to lead a school parade, I was asked to stand right behind my classmate, the other Sports Captain who was a boy. He was a great friend of mine and I held nothing against him. But, standing behind him while leading the school parade made no sense to me. “Why should I stand behind him when we both held the same office?” I asked. My teacher could not present any logical reason. “It is a rule”, he said.
School parades had always been conducted that way in our school. And, no one had questioned it!
I did stand behind my classmate for that lesson, but I did not like it. As my last resort, I went to my school principal to make my argument. I remember feeling sad and angry for having to fight for something that felt so rightfully mine. After a few days of debate, I and my classmate walked that school parade alongside each other, not one behind the other. A lot of my friends and schoolteachers thought I wasted too much time debating this. But it was important to me! It was important to demonstrate to hundreds of young schoolgirls that they were not supposed to stand behind anybody because they were girls. They needed to know they were equals.
My experience as a young girl shaped my views of equality and justice. And, today when I see something that does not feel right, I think of what that young girl who went to her school principal would have done. It helps me to fix things and to reach out for help.
As we grow older, probably everyday inequities do not feel large enough to put up a fight. But these inequities widen the gap.
Injustice prevails in the most mundane moments of classrooms, cafeterias, meeting rooms and living rooms. Not addressing them creates patterns and practices that people get too accustomed to care about. This in turn perpetuates a wide-reaching moral blindness that manifests in us, silently. Until, something so abhorrent happens that we all stand exposed to the ugly realities of systemic injustice.
While legislative actions create positive reforms, what the world also needs is a collective human reform. A reform that belongs to everyone and stands for everyday things. That which does not wait for a massive upheaval. That which is sustained by small efforts every day to ensure every person is treated equally in their everyday lives.