By Meghana N. & Nikhil Dharmaraj
We write this letter in a time of deep, continued emergency — an open letter to our community, fellow dominant-caste Indian Americans of Hindu descent. As we speak, there is a genocide happening on the ground in Gaza, Palestine. More than 825 bloodlines have been wiped from the family registry, more than 50% of homes have been flattened, the death toll is more than 11,500 (and rising) in the last month alone and a child is killed every 10 minutes. It is much too late, and yet the most urgent and precisely right moment to have this conversation.
It is the moment to respond with the utmost urgency because we are witnessing a genocide, what Gazans are terming a “second Nakba.” As popular movements have told us, “Mourn those who have passed and fight like hell for the living.”
And yet, we have taken 75 long years to answer this call to action while Palestinians have been living under occupation. 1948 marked al-Nakba (catastrophe) where over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes and ethnically cleansed, and 78% of the historic Palestine was annexed into the state of Israel. Since then, the Palestinian people have been subject to an onslaught of regular bombings, military checkpoints, a 16-year-old blockade on food and electricity, and settler violence, all in violation of international human rights law and UN mandates.
[Read Related: The Political Silence on Palestine]
We write this to our community as two Brahmin people of Hindu descent and as community organizers working in South Asian movements and movements in solidarity with Palestine. We mention nationality, caste, and faith positionality, here because we believe these identities task us with specific responsibilities to speak up at this moment. We write to you hoping that addressing our community directly will encourage more of us to not only speak out, but show up in civil disobedience and direct action in solidarity with Palestinian people. We are also guided by the fundamental belief that it is the responsibility of those of us who have privileged identities in this moment to have this conversation with each other, while following the lead of Palestinian, Kashmiri, Indian Muslim, Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan, and other marginalized organizers.
So — if you are a seasoned supporter of the movement in solidarity with Palestine (of whom there are many in our community), if you have been marching, speaking up, screaming at the rooftops for Gaza — we are grateful and inspired by you. More power to you; we see you, we are with you. If you are new to this conversation, we invite you and we say, there is still time to make a difference. We need you. If you are confused, questioning, or afraid, we ask that you take a few minutes of your time to read further.
Over the past few weeks, many of us — led by Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Kashmiri, working-class, Indo-Caribbean, and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations — have risen up in principled protest. We have marched in D.C., signed petitions, called our representatives, and spoken up in our social circles. Yet, some of us have remained silent. Though there have been many new outpourings of support, a culture of silence or neutrality still seems to be apparent amongst large sections of our community. We are especially thinking here of notable public figures such as celebrities, who capitalize off of “representation” politics and have previously spoken about anti-racism and superficial “decoloniality,” but have not raised their voices for Palestine. While some South Asian celebrities have chosen to celebrate Diwali at the White House, we commend the principled stance of others who have opted to boycott presidential celebrations in this moment of state-sponsored genocide instead. As a community, our analysis of white supremacy, privilege, and colonization cannot stop at “chai tea is tea-tea.” This is the trend we seek to interrupt, gently but firmly, in this writing. For those who have spoken out tentatively or fearfully, we hope we can embolden each other to unapologetically show up for Palestine, and empower each other to risk with our words and actions, what we hold dear, both ideologically and materially, in the name of justice.
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We do want to note that there is a very real — and credible — silencing of those who speak out in favor of Palestine. Students have been doxxed and threatened with expulsion and retracted job offers. Others have been terminated from employment for simply speaking out in support of a ceasefire and of Palestinian life. There are entire institutions that exist solely to target people — especially Black, Indigenous, racialized, Muslim, and/or queer people — who speak out against Israel. The United States also has a dangerous Cold-War era history of McCarthyism, in which alleged communists were extensively targeted by the government leading to job losses, social ostracization, and other consequences. The fear is real.
Even between the two of us, we have faced regular doxxing and harassment. But this swift and unrelenting censorship of so many voices shows us that the tide is turning, and institutions deeply invested in genocidal violence and suppression of truth know that they are losing. They seek to wield fear — the last tool they have — to silence us. Though they can target one voice, they cannot target us all. The masses of people worldwide — across race, nationality, religion, etc. — are rising up in protest to demand a ceasefire.
There have been many individuals who have justified their silence by a claim that as neither Muslims nor Jews, we must “remain neutral.” Morally, this argument overlooks the fact that we do not need to be directly impacted to call a spade a spade, and a genocide, a genocide. More specifically, as Indian Americans with caste privilege and of Hindu descent, we cannot be neutral, precisely because our existence is inherently not neutral; our heritage intertwines us with the violence of occupation.
This brings us to the important and nuanced history of India’s relationship with Israel. India has maintained an increasingly contradictory stance on the issue of Palestinian self-determination. In its early days, prior to Independence and right after, India was favorable toward the Palestinian cause, which some scholars have attributed to shared anti-colonial struggles and a desire to maintain the coalition with the Non-Aligned Movement. For example, Azad Essa, a journalist and expert author, stated that Indian independence leaders such as Nehru and Gandhi “perceived Zionist settlers as agents of the British state…so naturally they veered toward the Palestinians, [seeing the] Zionist project as inherently colonial.” This is consistent with an Indian vote at the UNSCO rejecting the validity of the Balfour Declaration, India being one of 13 countries to vote against Israel’s entry into the United Nations, and Indian officials’ vote to condemn Zionism alongside racism.
However, it is also important to note that these positions have not always been genuine, given what scholar-activist Huma Dar has termed India’s duplicitous “forked tongue” strategy of stating one thing and doing another. As Dr. Essa states, “how [can] a country that positioned itself as anti-colonial, anti-apartheid, and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement could also have a colonial project of its own?” Since the Jammu Pogrom in 1947 (a year before the horrific al-Nakba in Palestine), the Indian state, guided by supremacist ideologies that see Brahmins and other dominant-caste Hindus as the only “true” inheritors of the land, has occupied Kashmir — perpetrating over thousands of cases of murder, torture, and disappearance since. Akin to the Palestinian cause, Kashmiris have been bravely agitating for self-determination and an end to this colonial violence within what is the most militarized region on Earth, under the movement for Azaadi (Freedom).
In recent years, violence against Kashmiris has only escalated and so has India’s collusion with Israel. Genocide Watch — an internationally reputable organization that issued an emergency alert for genocide in Palestine most recently in October — also issued a genocide alert for Kashmir in 2019, following India’s abrogation of Article 370. India deployed the Israeli Pegasus surveillance spyware on Kashmiri journalists and is currently the largest importer of Israeli weapons — purchasing more than one billion dollars worth of arms in 2022, now even co-producing weaponry in cities like Bengaluru and Malanpur. The two countries use shared frameworks of Islamophobia that have connected their respective intelligence agencies since 1968, sexual violence as a tool of occupation in Kunan Poshpora and Safsaf, and the shutdowns of internet infrastructure as cover in Gaza and Kashmir (now in Manipur as well). Even in this pressing moment, India is currently the largest manufacturer of digital misinformation about Palestine, generating memes and tweets with global reach.
We understand that much of this information may be difficult to grapple with or ask us to question fundamental beliefs we have held or been taught for much of our lives. Being people of conviction means not looking away from difficult truths, whether they are happening in Palestine or in Kashmir. The entire history of this partnership and its origins are beyond the scope of this article, but we have linked resources below directly from Kashmiri scholars and activists that we encourage our community to learn more.
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By asking these difficult questions, we see that as Indian Americans of Hindu descent, we are not neutral because of the violence done in our name. Thus, we call on our community to use this moment as an invitation to direct action — for all liberation movements around the globe. No business as usual at a time of genocide. In line with the calls being put forth by Palestinian organizers, sit-ins, blockades, and strikes are the call of the hour. Brave activists have been rising to this call — as we saw in the Block The Boat Action at the Port of Oakland; the mass sit-ins of Jewish protesters at Grand Central Station and Congress; and the shutdown of Elbit Systems’ office in Boston.
[Read Related: Gaza and the Power of Social Media]
There is a powerful history of direct actions and civil disobedience in South Asian movement histories. Most recently, it has been used by courageous transgender activists fighting for Horizontal Reservations in states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu; farmers and laborers in Punjab demanding a repeal of oppressive laws; and now, pro-Palestine crowds flooding the streets of major cities across India. We lean on this history and say, it is time to put ourselves on the line for Palestine. Until a complete ceasefire is achieved; until the unlawful Israeli occupation and US aid to it ends; until Palestinians can live with dignity and freedom. We say “Free Palestine” with our full chest.
Here are some of the many ways to show up in direct action for Palestine:
- OCCUPY: Join your local Palestinian-led organization — such as Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) or Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — or your local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Answer their calls to action and be willing to take risks.
- BOYCOTT: Listen to the calls of the Boycott, Divest, & Sanctions (BDS) Movement calling for an official targeted boycott of companies complicit in Israeli apartheid.
- DIVEST: Workers in Palestine have released this incredibly useful guide for tracing institutional ties to Zionism and organizing for divestment as a strategy. Agitate to end these complicities in your sphere of influence.
- CALL, WRITE, AND PRESSURE YOUR REPRESENTATIVES: As the genocide continues, people are growing weary. We must not let up on our pressure (US Campaign for Palestinian Rights).
- Keep listening to and amplifying Palestinian voices and calls to action. Here are a few:
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- Adalah Justice Project
- Palestinian Youth Movement
- Arab Resource and Organizing Center
- Voices in Gaza:
- Yara Eid: Gazan journalist posting from London
- Bisan: Film/content creator with on-the-ground updates
- Ahmed Hijazi: Posting updates from local hospital in Gaza
- Motaz Azaiza: Photo and video journalist posting ground updates
- Hind Khoudary: Journalist posting and writing updates
- Plestia Alaqad: Journalist posting daily updates from Gaza
Even in the face of fear, we are reminded of the dire need to keep pushing against repression, in line with the unrelenting courage of the Palestinian people. Whether we look like the oppressed or the oppressors, let us stand on the right side of history to stop an ongoing genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.
Now is the time to put ourselves on the line for Palestine. We say: Free Palestine, Free Kashmir. Ceasefire Now. End the occupations. Join us!
Resources to learn about Kashmir:
- The Kashmir Syllabus (Stand with Kashmir)
- Colonizing Kashmir: State-building under Indian Occupation (Hafsa Kanjwal)
- Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? (Ifrah Butt, Essar Batool, Natasha Rather, Munaza Rashid, Samreen Mushtaq)
- “Kashmir Under Indian Settler-Colonialism in The Times of Covid: Myriad Ways to Annihilate A People” (Huma Dar)
- Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel (Azad Essa)
This article has been written by Meghana N. and Nikhil Dharmaraj.
Meghana (she/her) is a Telugu community organizer and researcher from the deep South. Her work lies at the intersection of trauma-informed healing and movement-building. Meghana has worked in progressive South Asian organizing for the past decade, and her past writing has integrated research and movement work for various audiences.
Nikhil Dharmaraj is an emerging graduate researcher, creative, and aspiring accomplice/organizer. Nikhil’s work explores the intersection of technology and power, particularly along the lines of race, caste, gender, class, and national identity.