A Tribute to Rohan Sooklall

—by Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Cofounder, Sadhana

Rohan Sooklall, a leader in the Indo-Caribbean community of LGBTQ rights, has passed away. He will fondly be remembered as one of Sadhana’s first vocal supporters and a compassionate human being looking to make a difference in a world where we are unnecessarily divided. 

Sooklall was an attendee at Sadhana’s first-ever public gathering, a town hall held at the Shri Trimurti Bhavan in Ozone Park, New York back in January 2013. At the time, Sooklall was also the leader of a new organization called SANGAM. 

On the day I found out about Sooklall’s death, my father-in-law, who is a lead organizer of Queens’ biggest street festival, the annual Phagwah Parade, mentioned that Sooklall was the first to request that an LGBT group march in the parade with their banner. Phagwah is synonymous Hindu festival of Spring, Holi, and the word is commonly used by Indo-Caribbean Hindus.

Sooklall was a pioneer in his own right. He was a lover of yoga and of his faith, which he envisioned as an inclusive, all-embracing religion that society misconstrued to ostracize marginalized groups. Almost every time I met Sooklall, he was wearing the color saffon (orange), which connotes the holiest color in Hinduism. 

At the aforementioned 2013 town hall, panelist Vijay Balakrishnan said that progressive Hinduism was the “freedom to create an open space, inclusive of people of different orientations, lifestyles, sexual preferences, and marital statuses.” Sooklall, a devout Hindu who himself had been searching for a faith space that welcomed him as a member of the LGBT community, was inspired by this and by Sadhana’s existence. He stated, “It’s very good to hear this in the temple because it does exist in our society and our community. Many people say this is not Hindu or Indian culture and this is something alien. But it is good to hear this is something you are talking about openly.” Sooklall stood up and mentioned that it was the very first time he had heard the words LGBT mentioned in a mandir. At a such a formative time in Sadhana's organizational history, Sooklall's words validated our entire existence.

We commit to continue talking about justice and moving from dialogue into action every chance we can.

Since 2013, Sadhana has held many satsanghs (sacred worship gatherings) which specifically lift up the rights of the LGBTQ community. We have not forgotten Sooklall’s words, and we never will. 

We are in the midst of the observance of Pitri Paksh, a period of 16 solemn days in the Hindu calendar when we we honor and express thanks through offerings to those who have come before and laid a path for us.  As we pay homage to the activists who paved the way, we remember and celebrate Sooklall’s life. We will continue to keep Rohan’s legacy alive by promoting the principle of ekatva (oneness of all).

oṃ tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyor mukṣīya mā 'mṛtāt

We worship Lord Shiva, the Three-eyed Lord, who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As is the ripened cucumber (with the intervention of the gardener) freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. 
Om Peace, Peace, Peace