The Hebrew word for ‘Justice’ has two connotations. The first is mishpat, which means to treat every person equitably and give each person their due, whether it be-wages, food or love. The second term is tzadeqah and it means that an individual should treat every person in their family and society with “fairness, generosity, and equity.” Thus, justice constitutes an important element in our dealings with the people around us.
Living in a metropolitan city like New Delhi can change individuals. The culture of this city is aggressive and belligerent. If one were to speak politely to vendors, salesman, and auto-driver, they are quick to take advantage of soft-spoken people and dupe them. Many tourists and visitors are taken for a ride and swindled of their money, especially if they appear new and unaccustomed to the culture of the city.
One can vouch for this change with examples of people from small towns, especially students who go on to pursue careers in different fields. Raised within families to speak gently, treat the other person with respect and give people the benefit of doubt have always been inculcated in children as they grow up. However, navigating the vicissitudes of life in a city can be extremely difficult. Before realizing it, the culture of the city changes us to become like the individuals we initially disapproved of.
Many of us, put on our armour before we step out of our homes. Thus, a majority of us have inculcated dual personalities. We are demure and modest within our friend circles and family relationships, and truculent and pugnacious when we deal with strangers, vendors, and auto-drivers.
This combative nature of our city can also be observed in public spaces, where our city culture has fostered a sense of mistrust and truculence. The roads we drive in are filled with people who have a me-first attitude and selfish atomistic view of putting their needs and views above that of the people around them. Perhaps, this could be a consequence of the market economy reaching deeper into places where earlier such issues were dealt with by moral economics.
The tragedy of the matter is that knowingly or unknowingly we have contributed to the city culture of belligerence, mistrust and hostility. Our words are not soft but harsh, we are quick to judge and would never give strangers the benefit of doubt. We are afraid of being taken advantage of, and this genuine fear has morphed itself into a toxic culture in the city that creates tension and unpleasantness for every resident living and sharing the same work and public spaces.
The word tzadeqah reminds us to pursue a life of right relationships. We have privatized faith to the extent that we are concerned with our inner struggles and have forgotten to conduct outer relationships with fairness and generosity. A city where everyone pursued tzadeqah would mean that every individual would live in right relationship with everyone else. This would bring a changed atmosphere and reduce the social costs of living in a city. That change could begin with us and we would be pursuing justice, by seeking generosity in our dealings with the people of our city.
By Nirvan Pradhan
Nirvan Pradhan is a Research Scholar in the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.