Saddened and angered by riots/pogroms in Delhi, some concerned citizens and organisations of Shillong gave a call for a All Faith vigil Against Majoritarian Hate on Friday, 28th February. Many responded. Speakers, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, prayed their pains and frustrations at the full blown Hindutva fascist times we were living through. But as Angela Rangad of TUR pointed out, that the same process of othering and targetting which underpinned the Hindutva fascist project also had its resonances in Meghalaya’s own backyard. To stand up against violence and hate in India should also mean standing up to such ideas in Meghalaya too. Other speakers, such as Rudy Warjri, Rev. Nathan Diengdoh & Rev. Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh appealed for a new coalition of citizens in Shillong and elsewhere who would defend pluralism and understanding amongst communities. But it was Caldwell Manners, a Khasi documentary photographer and peace activist who brought it all home.
While the vigil was ending, news started filtering in about the conflict in Ichamati near Shella, Meghalaya between the non-tribal residents and the activists and supporters of Khasi Students Union, leading to the death of Lurshai Hynniewta, a Khasi, of Sohra. The curfew was imposed, mobile internet shut down, amidst the fears of violence and counter-violence. Next morning, Rupchand Dewan, a non tribal shop assistant in Iewduh, succumbed to a stabbing spree in the market, eight others were injured. Caldwell’s speech came back to haunt us.
Thank you for coming out.
This gathering, this plurality of people, is a response to bigotry, hatred, violence, exclusion and fear. Thank you for taking a stand. Thank you for showing up. We are here to respond in love, in compassion, in dialog, and nonviolence.
The violence we witnessed in Delhi, the violence we witnessed in the country over these last few months are not isolated events that happened “spontaneously” like the government would like us to believe. These are events orchestrated by a cultural shift toward a politics of hate. When I say “Politics” I don’t necessarily mean electoral politics, even though that can be a part of it. By politics I mean the arrangement of power. The discourse of hate and suspicion backed by the brutality of violence, whicjy has instilled in us a sense of fear. A fear that teaches us to treat people who do not look like me, who do not talk like me, who not believe like me as a threat to my existence. It creates a “us and them” mentality, it creates a hierarchy of of power – and usually it’s a hierarchy that justifies violence, bullying, sterotyping and hate. We cannot allow these ingredients of hate, of exclusion, of supremacy, and of violence dictate how we should live.
We are here because we have had enough.
Enough of the violence. Enough of the racism. Enough religious bigotry. And enough of the exclusion of our neighbours.
I want to call on the Christian community, a majority in this state, to be bold and courageous in denouncing the violence, particularly in our own state.
Everyone has the right to be safe. If you’re from Shillong, if you’re from Assam, if you’re from another other part of India, even if you are from Bangladesh. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
If you are Ñiam Tre, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, atheist, or agnostic, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
If you are Gay, Lesbian, Transgender – no matter you sexual orientation or gender – YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
If you are a child, a woman, a man, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
This fear is not only about Delhi. This fear is about Shillong too.
Today we are here because of hope. Because an alternative of love, dialog, respect and nonviolence are possible.
Yes, we are different, we have different beliefs, ideas, and preferences. Yes, there is so much to identify on what divides us, its easier to do that. James Baldwin, writer and activist wrote, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
And that is what the authors of the Politics of Hate want us to do. They are banking on the fact that we will keep each other at arms length. That we will be suspicious of one another. That we will look out for our good over the common good. That we will not know our neighbour.
Enough of that!!! We will not allow hatred and difference of divide us.
You might be here today with friends, or maybe alone. But I’m sure there’s someone here you do know. As an act of protest, take this moment to walk up to someone you don’t know, shake their hand, introduce yourself, and tell them, “WE ARE STRONGER THAN HATE!”
Caldwell C. Manners is a humanitarian practitioner who has worked with local grassroots activists and human rights defenders in Colombia and Iraqi Kurdistan to provide unarmed civilian protection, assessing risk, and collaborating with multiple stakeholders to create safe spaces for local change makers. His work as a documentary photographer and communicator attempts to resist the cynicism that can arise when one is exposed to atrocities, inequality, or injustice every day. He currently is the Communications Coordinator for the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a violence reduction organisation that supports local nonviolent change makers to challenge systemic roots of oppression and violence in their work of liberation. He has a Masters of Divinity (2008) from Anderson University, Indiana, United States of America.