"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Deepika –a beacon of hope in these depressing times Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

It was a rainy Monday morning.

Our guest from India, Deepika Singh Rajawat, wanted to go to a temple for prayers. I picked her up from a friend’s house where she was staying and drove her to Burnaby Hindu temple, one of the largest in North America.

Once we reached the temple, she greeted the priest respectfully, removed her shoes and went straight inside the prayer room. She then took several minutes to perform the holy ritual of bathing the idol of Lord Shiva with milk and water. With eyes closed in devotion and prayers on her lips she was completely immersed in paying obeisance to God.  After the prayers were over, she seemed completely relaxed with tears flowing from her eyes.

She had a hectic week as she was here to speak about her fight for justice on the invitation of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), a group I belong to. It was established in response to growing attacks on religious minorities under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

A human rights defender who I would prefer to call Deepika on purpose in the rest of the text, is a devout Hindu. She is a practising lawyer based in the Jammu region of India. She came into the limelight after she stepped forward to defend the family of an eight-year-old Muslin nomad girl Asifa Bano who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists. The perpetrators of the heinous crime wanted to terrorise and humiliate Muslims and used little child’s body as a battlefield.  

IAPI had decided to invite her and honour her for standing up for a minority community and share her story with the people in Canada. Talking about such an intensive subject again and again also becomes emotionally draining, and I could feel that pain in her.

After the prayers she reminded me what true Hindu values stand for, and how those using Hinduism as a political tool know nothing about their faith. She has repeatedly said that her brand of Hinduism is based on the philosophy of love and not bigotry.

Yet, her faith in Hinduism did not stop her from taking up the cause of Bano, even when Indian society is completely polarized under the BJP government that won another term in the recently concluded election. This is despite the fact that she is a Kashmiri Pundit, an ethnic group which has been persecuted by the Islamic fundamentalists for years.

Being a staunch believer of the law and the Indian constitution that is based on principles of secularism and inclusion, she did what she thought right. Notably, she has emphasised many times that she is a proud Indian and a proud Hindu. On the contrary, those in power stood in support of those involved in the conspiracy to rape and murder Bano.  So much so, the BJP men marched with the national flag to show solidarity with the suspects, and kept attacking Deepika on social media.

An undeterred Deepika continued to fight until the case was transferred outside Jammu to the neighbouring state of Punjab to ensure a fair trial. However, this fight has never been easy for Deepika. She had to face challenges even from within her own family and the fraternity of lawyers. The majoritarian sentiment had almost alienated her completely. Not only was she branded as anti-national, but anti-Hindu. The Indian establishment should have given her the highest civilian award she deserved for standing up for the values enshrined in the constitution, but instead she was labelled as unpatriotic.

Interestingly, the BJP supporters who want Bhagwad Geeta, a sacred Hindu text, to be declared as a national book, deviated from its teachings when they tried to malign Deepika who is a far better Hindu. Geeta teaches everyone to perform their assigned duty with dedication and without any prejudice. Well, she was exactly doing that as a lawyer, but the self-styled custodians of Hinduism threatened to rape and murder her for coming to the defence of a Muslim family.  

During her stay in Vancouver, one evening she cooked a dinner for everyone that included goat meat. This was despite the fact that she herself is vegetarian. This gesture, how small it may seem alone, shows her openness, something the BJP lacks. This is in sharp contrast to what self-styled cow vigilantes are doing in India. Since Hindus consider cow as a sacred animal, they have started going after Muslims and Christians suspected of carrying beef in their tiffin boxes.

Another instance of her faith in inclusion is her visit to the Abbotsford Heritage Gurdwara where she prayed before Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.  That the members of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, another gurdwara in Abbotsford, came to see her at a specially arranged meeting in Surrey to give her a small token of appreciation, shows the kind of respect she received from the Sikh community which has faced the worst forms of state sponsored violence in the past.   

Ironically, the day Deepika returned to India, the electorate of that country re-elected the BJP government with a brute majority, in spite of the fact that past five years saw repression of minorities. The verdict of the Indian voters was clearly in favour of hate and terror. While a person like myself hoped that what they did to Bano will bring a new awakening and the BJP will either be ousted or lose seats, it has actually increased its strength in the parliament. The voters who completely ignored the cries of Bano have let us down.

Deepika, which means lantern, continues to give us hope in these depressing times and we believe it will continue to flicker and remove this darkness one day. We need more true Indians and good Hindus like her to rescue that nation from the religious extremists who are bent upon ripping the secular fabric and turning that land of diversity into a Hindu theocracy.

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