From Hindus for Human Rights, Reflections on a Multi-Faith Deepavali
October 28, 2022
In a time where divisiveness and intolerance seem to plague every space we occupy, gatherings of faith-based communities hold a special power in bringing people together.
Multi-faith spaces like Hindus for Human Rights’ Multi-Faith Deepavali celebrations on Capitol Hill and in the Bay Area provide refreshing and inclusive spaces to share the beauty of our faiths with others and to demonstrate that we are bound by a sacred duty to build community and to care for one another. Deepavali is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the win of light over darkness, and it’s observed by many different faith communities in South Asia. Our events featured various faith and community leaders who spoke of their own faith traditions and practices in the context of Deepavali’s message of light over darkness and justice over injustice.
Faith teaches us important values about standing up for justice and for collective liberation. Every faith articulates these values in different ways and finding community in interfaith spaces allows us to learn from each other’s practices. It is these faith teachings and sense of community that have guided my personal passion for human rights, and Hindus for Human Rights’ mission of building an inclusive and interfaith movement of those fighting for human rights, justice, and liberation. Our multi-faith Deepavali celebrations sponsored by Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian organizations, provided just that; an opportunity for people to gather and reflect on how our faith traditions and teachings influence our advocacy for human rights for all. The messages shared by different faith leaders, community members, and members of Congress called for unity and a collective effort to advocate for human rights and justice for oppressed communities.
Even in the presence of such beauty in faith, oftentimes we see the language and traditions of faith being manipulated for a harmful, discriminatory, and violent political agenda of religious nationalism and supremacy. These movements peddle intolerance and harmful narratives meant to divide and demonize people based on faith. Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is one of these extremist religious movements that has crept up alongside the likes of Christian nationalism in the United States. It has grown increasingly potent in recent years and has pushed forth religious division and violent rhetoric that have severe implications for our communities. These divisions, whether people accept them as a reality or not, are pervasive throughout the diaspora, in both subtle ways and through outward action. It has become quite difficult for me and for our organization to engage in Hindu spaces in a manner that prioritizes values of liberation and justice for all, because of Hindutva forces that seek to divide Hindus and Muslims and those of other faiths.
Even if some Hindu spaces aren’t explicitly calling for a “Hindu Rashtra,” they often use the rhetoric of Hindutva to push misinformation that make it harder for advocates like us to draw attention to the underlying issues of class and caste divisions, and religio-nationalist forces such as white supremacy and Hindutva. Hindutva, like other forms of religious nationalism, creates a slippery slope into the decline of liberal democracy and into the rise of fascism that we are seeing all across the globe. Being unwilling to discuss these dangers, or unrelenting in the support of religious nationalism, is doing our communities a disservice.
This is exactly why interfaith spaces are necessary and so crucial to our work. If we are able to come together as people of various faiths to address the issues of religious nationalism and other forces that aim to divide us, we can build multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith movements for justice and liberation. People are hungry for these progressive and inclusive religious spaces, and while it is certainly a daunting task to take on these forces of evil, more and more people are finding interest in this work. So much so that at this year’s White House Diwali celebration, amidst a list of South Asian celebrities and public figures, we saw the faces of progressive Hindu panditas and activists, and others working to advance this mission of faith-based justice and liberation.
If we can continue to build a coalition of progressive and inclusive religious voices, we will be well-armed to take on the forces of religious nationalism and to retake our faith traditions that have been exploited for evil. Events like a Multi-Faith Deepavali show us that coming together in celebration of our similarities, and our differences, can help advance a mission of collective liberation and human rights for all.
Harita Iswara is the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at Hindus for Human Rights.
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