Members of the South Asian diaspora gathered last Friday, September 8, 2017, in Cambridge, USA in a vigil for Gauri Lankesh.
The event brought together participants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan as well as concerned North Americans of Boston.
Speakers in the vigil spoke of Gauri’s life and commitment. Gauri stood for a pluralistic society, one that is inclusive of all religions and communities. For that she has been killed. The issues she gave her life for is not peculiar to India, but common to many countries in the world. Speakers noted that Myanmar is just another example of the logical consequence of the intolerance that Gauri wrote against. Indeed, one of the last posts Gauri had shared is about the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
Communal politics has always been a convenient way to further the interests of the powers that be. In Myanmar, marking the Rohingya people as outsiders divert attention from the land grabbing that is taking place in a land-rich area where the price of land has been increasing rapidly. Rampant land grabbing in all of Myanmar affects Buddhists as well as well as Rohingya people but whipping up religious and ethnic hatred against a particular community affords a good diversion.
A prominent journalist shared how the assassination of Gauri Lankesh reminded her of the killing of the Pakistani human rights activist Sabeen Mahmood who too was eliminated for espousing free speech and harmony.
North American participants noted that the intolerance Gauri wrote of is also true of the USA. White supremacist ideologies have clashed against the prevailing multi-ethnic multi-religious secular society. This revival manifests itself in elections, street protests and counter protests and challenges by many levels of society including the media and judiciary.
“Dreamers” in the USA refer to children brought over as minors by immigrants without visas to the USA. The attempt to deport such people now is part of the campaign of those who want a return to more “White” and less diverse USA. However, among many other protests against the repeal of the protection of “Dreamers”, just the day prior to the vigil for Gauri, at the same spot in Harvard Square, over two dozen professors and affiliates of local institutions including Harvard, MIT, Boston College – were arrested for their act of civil disobedience in support of the “Dreamers”.
Similarly, some weeks ago over forty thousand people in Boston participated in a counter protest against a white supremacist gathering numbering about 30 (soon escorted away in a police van and their rally therefore cancelled).
Such events have been reported widely in national and international media and attest to the realization of many in the USA that a nation based on diversity and shared values, not on uniformity of ethnicity, religion or skin color, is a healthier and richer nation.
Speakers in the vigil concluded that fighting for what Gauri Lankesh fought for is the true homage to Gauri. In every way possible, we must affirm the primacy of our identity as human beings over all other identities that are imputed to us by the powers that be.
The vigil concluded with a moment of silence for Gauri Lankesh.
Report by Nurul Kabir of Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia
Organizing groups: Free Saibaba Coalition-US, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, Coalition for a Democratic India and the virtual South Asia Center.