Open Letter to Mr. Niraj Shah, Co-founder and CEO, Wayfair

 

Dear Niraj bhai,

In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is clear that you and your wife Jill resonate with these profound words. You have given generously of your money, time, and effort to build a private foundation which addresses poverty, children’s education, and social needs in the Boston area. 

We are members of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus. For the past eight years, we have worked to inspire and mobilize Hindu communities in the United States to connect their faith to humanitarian seva (service) in the world. We salute you for your noble philanthropic efforts.

We are writing regarding media reports that your company Wayfair has procured a $200,000 contract with BCFS, a firm that works with the US government to house detained migrant adults and children along the US-Mexico border.  

As Hindus and scholars and practitioners of Hindu traditions who share your concern about poverty and human suffering, and your demonstrated commitment to addressing it, we hope you will reconsider Wayfair’s involvement in the humanitarian crisis at our US-Mexico border.

By immigrating to the United States from India, your parents were able to carve out a path for you to succeed in life. That path is being closed to increasing numbers of immigrants searching for that same opportunity.  Please try and imagine the extreme trauma and crises -- war and conflict, gang violence and terrorism, religious persecution, and the dire consequences of climate change -- that must be driving so many families to flee their home countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia (with increasing numbers of migrants fleeing India), and Central and South America to arrive at the Southern border. 

Selling furniture to the government for detention centers and other border facilities is tantamount to being an accomplice to the inhumane policies of the United States government towards the migrant families. We have seen the separation of children, even babies, from their parents. We have seen parents detained for many months, without any knowledge of where their children have been sent. We have seen images of children in cages—children who do not know where their parents are. We have seen parents deported back to their home countries while their children remain in the US, languishing in foster care.

Most recently, we have seen unspeakable tragedies: the death from dehydration of a 6-year old Indian girl in the Arizona desert, while her mother went to find water; and the deaths by drowning of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter.

Rather than participate in the United States government’s cruel border policies, we implore you to cancel your business dealings with them.  

Your foundation website shares that if you could wave a magic wand, you “would wipe out inefficiency in government and society,” and “erase poverty.” And Mrs. Shah would want everyone to feel “truly, confidently loved.”

Mr. Shah, the migrants who arrive at our shores are fleeing terrifying situations which are not of their making. We Sadhana members, your brothers and sisters, invite you to be in dialogue and community with us. Together, we can draw on the wisdom and teachings of our traditions, and build a world in which all children are, “truly, confidently loved.” We call upon you to remember:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the “beloved community,” which is none other than the Hindu vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family)

  • The Hindu teaching, “Atithi Devo Bhava,” which calls on us to see God in every guest, every foreigner, every person who is different from ourselves

  • The principle of ahimsa (non-violence and non-harming) that is central to Hinduism.

Your brave workers are mirroring the very same values that you and Mrs. Shah represent through your philanthropy: they are sacrificing their job security to urge you to think of the wellbeing of migrant children and families. 

Ending Wayfair’s contracts with BCFS will be an act of moral courage and self-sacrifice on your part, and a much-needed example to the world. 

In addition, we ask that you listen to the demands of your employees, who risked their jobs to voice their concerns, and donate any profits that you have already made from these contracts to RAICES, an organization that supports migrants and works to fight the human rights violations at the ICE-operated detention centers.

By refusing to benefit materially from the suffering of these poor people, and by bringing global awareness to their plight, you will be acting as an empathetic parent, a true humanitarian, and a true Hindu.

Namaste and dhanyavaad,

Sadhana executive board members: Sunita Viswanath, Aminta Kilawan, Davanie Singhroy, Samir Durvasula, Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Udit Thakur, Gautham Reddy

Sadhana advisors and colleagues (institutional affiliations listed are for reference only):

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College

Dr. Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion & Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College

Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life and Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University 

Dr. Shana Sippy, Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College, and Research Associate and Co-Director of The Religious Diversity in MN Initiative, Carleton College

Sri Raja Gopal Bhattar, Sri Vaishnava Pandit

Swami Agnivesh, Indian human rights activist and spiritual leader

Dr. John Thatamanil, Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions at Union Theological Seminary 

Shrestha Singh, Hindu scholar and spiritual guide

Sanjukta Paul, Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University

Dave Kutayiah, Chairman, Shri Shakti Mariamman Temple

Sapthagiri Iyengar, Sadhana active member and community organizer

Vijah Ramjattan, Founder and President, United Madrassi Association

Tahil Sharma, Sadhana active member and interfaith activist

Punya Upadhyaya, Ph.D, Gurubhakt and Ashram Trustee, Taos, NM