On Sunday, September 22nd, thousands of people from across the country gathered in Houston, Texas to welcome the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, at the "Howdy, Modi!" rally. Billed as a celebration of "Shared Dreams and Bright Futures," the event was attended by US President Donald Trump and sought to emphasize "the strong ties between the people of the United States and India." Modi ended his speech with the following statement:
"In the coming days, [President Trump and I] are going to talk and I am certain that some positive developments will come out of it. President Trump calls me the top negotiator but he himself is great at the ‘art of the deal’ and I am learning a lot from him … Our friendship will give new heights to our shared dreams and vibrant future."
We, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, would like to address the content of these shared dreams and vibrant futures. Thus far, we have seen President Trump's policies generate a humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border while his ongoing violent rhetoric has provoked an increase in hate crimes against minorities. Prime Minister Modi, in turn, has overseen the abrogation not only of key parts of the Indian Constitution relating to Kashmir, but of international norms of democracy and human rights. Modi's right-wing Hindu nationalist government has initiated the construction of mass detention camps to house nearly 2 million people in Assam, mostly Muslims but also Hindus, who have been stripped of their citizenship.
Under the administrations of President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, Sadhana is deeply concerned that India and America's shared dreams currently function along the lines of xenophobia, ethno-supremacy, and violence. However, we also believe the two countries' futures can, and should, look different. Two sources, both Indian and American, from which we might begin to envision this future come from the Srimad Bhagavatam and American poet Gwendolyn Brooks:
Srimad Bhagavatam (11.2.41)
khaṁ vāyum agniṁ salilaṁ mahīṁ ca
jyotīṁṣi sattvāni diśo drumādīn
sarit-samudrāṁś ca hareḥ śarīraṁ
yat kiṁ ca bhūtaṁ praṇamed ananyaḥ
Nothing is separate from the Divine.
Space, fire, air, water, earth,
The sun, moon, and planets,
All living beings,
The four directions,
Trees, plants, and flowers,
Rivers and oceans,
Revere all these as the body of God.
"Paul Robeson" by Gwendolyn Brooks
we all heard it,
cool and clear,
cutting across the hot grit of the day.
The major Voice.
The adult Voice
forgoing Rolling River,
forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge
and other symptoms of an old despond.
Warning, in music-words
devout and large,
that we are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.
Sadhana's guiding principles are ekatva (unity), seva (service), and ahimsa (non-violence). The lines from the Srimad Bhagavatam and Gwendolyn Brooks, when taken together, might offer a culminating vision of these principles. As the lines from the Srimad Bhagavatam emphasize our divine unity (ekatva), the lines from Gwendolyn Brooks emphasize that our primary commitment is to each other (seva). The implication of both of these texts, then, is that we practice a deep-rooted empathy and non-violence (ahimsa) towards one another. Although Sadhana believes that the principles of ekatva, seva, and ahimsa are being actively violated under the Trump and Modi administrations, we believe that a different future is possible.
We are inspired by the leadership of progressive Hindu Americans such as California Congressman Ro Khanna, Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Illinois state senator Ram Villivalam, and former Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar, who have spoken out as Hindus against injustice at home and abroad. We commend those who peacefully demonstrated for human rights and justice in Houston yesterday. Sadhana co-founder Sunita Viswanath brought a Hindu voice to the protests by representing a newly-formed advocacy organization, Hindus for Human Rights.
We would like to invite all people to join us in affirming our shared dharma to strive for a just and peaceful world.
oṃ asato mā sadgamaya
tamaso mā jyotirgamaya
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
Om, Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
Om, peace, peace, peace!