Towards Building a Progressive Coalition: India 2014 Elections | Satrang and South Asians for Justice, LA
It was incredible to witness, as South Asian attendees and a few Asian allies entered the event, how, immediately, coming together and exchanging stories of shock, grief and outrage sent smiles and laughs rippling through the gatherers, showing that listening and being heard had an amazing power to bring peace and solace. Set against the backdrop of an art installation on communal violence in Gujarat featuring stories of Muslim organizers from Sahiyar, a women’s rights organization in Baroda, Gujarat, and Sahir Raza’s photography taken in the aftermath of the 2002 genocide, our facilitators Shyamala Moorty and Shruti Purkayastha lead us through a movement ice breaker. Both trained in theatre and dance, Shyamala and Shruti asked us to assess how the traumatic results of the 2014 Indian elections have been written into our bodies.
After these embodied check-ins and introductions (including preferred gender pronouns), we launched into the awareness-building portion of the evening. Four intersectional topics were covered: the history and present of communal violence in Gujarat and Narendra Modi’s rise to power; homophobia, sexuality and the reinstitution of article 377; neoliberalism, development and Hindutva; and connections between Hindu nationalist campaigns and electoral politics in the U.S.
The first speaker, Naazneen Diwan explored how gendered violence was employed during the 2002 genocide in Gujarat, as eliminating Muslim women as the carriers of culture, ideology and future generations brought Hindu nationalists and fundamentalists one step closer to eliminating the undesirable Muslim element in Indian society. She discussed how the 2002 genocide and targeting of various minorities in Gujarat (including Christians, Dalits, and Sikhs) was a politically lucrative move for Modi and that even after his recent election to Prime Minister, violence and terror against the most vulnerable communities continue. Diya Bose followed, discussing how the neoliberal policies that Modi so fervently stands by, have drained public resources for decades while pandering to patriarchy and devaluing women’s labor. She further debunked Gujarat as a model of development and prosperity for the rest of India, highlighting that Gujarat’s growth rate was far from extraordinary (being on par with other states, including Kerala) while it performs below average in human development (access to water, healthcare, education). Asad Haidar considered the 2013 reinstitution of article 377 which criminalizes homosexuality and makes gay populations vulnerable to harassment, extortion by law enforcement, assault and increased silencing. He discussed how this 2013 decision had the influence of a coalition of conservative religious groups behind it, which leaves us to wonder how the ruling BJP, a conservative Hindu nationalist party, will continue to fan the flames of homophobia. Taz Ahmed, our final speaker, mapped the rise of Hindutva in the U.S. citing the 1980’s and 90’s as rife with Hindu right youth camps funded by the RSS and VHP. In the post-9/11 era, she examined the ways Hindu Americans have distanced themselves from brownness and Muslimness, seeking cover in assimilation and ally-ship with growing Islamophobia.
Every part of the event was designed to bridge personal reflections with collective shared experiences. Time was carved out between each speaker to channel stirring intense emotions into art-making. We picked up markers, colored pencils and crayons and drew, wrote, diagrammed whatever spoke to us and that we would carry out of that room. The partnered sharing that followed allowed for a more intimate way to dialogue. Our closing activity was a collectively constructed collage, in which we took all of our creations and positioned them based on connections and resonances. We discussed the common threads, what was emerging through these expressions and circled up. Our check-out circle was a call to how we might feel moved and compelled to build further and what those conversations and actions would look like. The energy to carry this work forward together was effervescent and a historically devastating moment in Indian politics and human rights felt more manageable to bear, as isolation dissipated and solidarity grew in its place.