A host of community organizations, including Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, staged a pro-democracy rally in front of the New York Indian Consulate April 6 to draw attention to the recent “repression of democratic dissent and human rights” in India.
Sunita Viswanath, Sadhana cofounder, said the Americans of Hindu faith, many of them Indians stand opposed to the ideology of Hindutva and the atrocities against minorities and dissenters being committed in the name of Hinduism.
“We stand with all the people of India who are calling for an end to this regime that threatens democracy, disregards the dignity and safety of minorities, and has declared war on the poor,” Viswanath, a Brooklyn native said at the rally. A few dozen protesters held placards with messages that decried Prime Minster Modi’s government for alleged violation of human rights and violence against minorities like Muslims and Dalits.
The rally took place in New York a week ahead of the general electionsin India, the first phase of which began April 11. Voting in the first of seven rounds is being held in 91 parliament constituencies across 20 states and Union Territories. There are 543 seats at stake.
Prime Minister Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party has entered the election as the frontrunner, despite economic distress over mounting unemployment, and weak farm incomes in rural areas.
Viswanath said Sadhana opposes the growth of Hindutva and violent influence of right-wing groups like the RSS and VHP. “We consider it our dharma to speak out against the atrocities that are taking place in India in the name of our faith. Sadhana injects a progressive Hindu voice into this discourse,” she said.
The other co-sponsors of the rally were Aazaad Lab, Alliance for a Democratic and Secular South Asia, Aam Aadmi Party New Jersey, Coalition for the Defense of the Constitution and Democracy, Coalition for a Democratic India, Dalit Solidarity Forum (DSF), Free Saibaba Coalition–US, Indian American Muslim Council, India Civil Watch, Indian Bahujan Organization (IBO), International Action Center (IAC). NRISAD, NY Global Standout Group, NYC India-Pakistan Peace Group and Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI).
Sadhana member Shashank Rao told the rally that in the wake of continued violence against Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, and other minority communities in India, it is important to decry these atrocities and reaffirm the diverse and syncretic cultures of India.
“Though I was born in the United States, I still hold India close to my heart. In fighting the threat of Hindutva nationalism on all of the communities here, let us remember India as the home of saints like Santa Shishunala Sharif, who taught us to prize friendship and deep learning between religious traditions and great leaders like B.R. Ambedkar who inspired us to fight against all systems of oppression,” Rao said.
“To uphold this memory of India is to refuse the cause of Hindutva, to deny hatred into our hearts, and to further the cause for a democratic, diverse nation that many our families and communities call home.”