May 2, 2018 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
SAN JOSE, CA: “The arc of history in America and in the world is changed by you individuals coming together,” said Dominic Caserta, a city councillor from neighboring Santa Clara, as he took the loudspeaker during an April 29 candlelight vigil for Asifa in San Jose, California.
Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl living near the city of Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, India, was abducted in January. Held captive in a Hindu temple, she was gang-raped for days before she was strangled to death. Her body was discovered dumped in a field. The crime has provoked international outrage, particularly after attorneys in Kathua attempted to block police from filing charges against the accused by rallying outside the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s office on April 9. Subsequently, two State Ministers from India’s ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — Lal Singh and Chandar Prakash Ganga — participated in a rally defending the accused.
“We stand for all,” said Paramjit Kaur Khalra at the vigil. Speaking on behalf of Khalra Mission Organisation, she promised, “We will continue to fight for all.”
The vigil was organized by a diverse coalition of groups and individuals who demanded justice for Asifa. Taking the loudspeaker, Palestinian activist Rakib called for peace. “Brothers and sisters, whether you are Muslim, whether you are Christian, whether you are a Jew, whether you are a Hindu, whether you are a Buddhist, it doesn’t matter what — if you believe in a power, in a Creator, in whatever you believe, there has to be peace,” said Rakib. “It doesn’t matter what color you are. It doesn’t matter where you are. Nobody wants any of this for his daughter. We are humans. There are some points in life where you need to put all differences aside.”
Karthikeyan Shanmugam, a representative of Ambedkar King Study Circle, spoke about the need to uplift socially and economically oppressed people. He argued that Hindu nationalist ideology is oppressing the majority of India’s population. “Hindutva says that they are in favor of the majority of the Hindus,” said Shanmugam. “That is how they are selling their ideology. Is it true? No? They are for the minuscule of the section of the population, the Brahmanical and the upper class.”
Councillor Caseta praised the vigil participants. “Your passion and your love for your community is unheralded,” said Caseta. “The energy that you have here will ripple effect not only in Santa Clara and California, but also in India as well.” Referencing his own two-year-old son, he continued, “It is unacceptable that any of our most precious resource, our children, are taken advantage of. We need justice…. Not only eight-year-old girls, but all of our children should be protected at all times. We are a country and a world of rule of law and safety.”
Vigil participants chanted slogans such as “we want justice for Asifa” and “one, two, three, four, kick Hindutva out the door” as they held signs reading “stop hate killings in India,” “women, girls, in infants, minorities…. none are safe in India,” “in India, cows are safer than our daughters,” and “make India safe for our daughters — vacate Hindutva looters.” Women balanced babies in their arms as they displayed signs to traffic and children in sweatshirts braved the cold to lift candles for Asifa. Participants included Tamils, Punjabis, Ambedkarites, Bangladeshis, Palestinians, and others. Also present was Mr. Khalid Azam of Indian American Muslim Council.
“I have a dream that, one day, the children of Tamil Nadu, and Punjab, and Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh — the Mulnivasi children of Christians, and Buddhists, and Dalits, and Hindus, and Sikhs — will be able to live free of fear that where they live, what they eat, where they sleep, what they wear, or what they believe may result in them being beaten, burned, raped, or lynched,” said Bhajan Singh, Founding Director of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) in remarks at the vigil. “I have a dream that, one day, temples, and mosques, and gurdwaras will no longer be razed to the ground in the name of nationalism. We shall be free, we shall be free, we shall be free.”