SAAVI’s Response to Equality Labs: A South Asian American Grassroots Non-Profit Advocacy Group Calls For Genuine Equality & Integrity

This letter is an aggregate of emails sent by the President of South Asian American Voices for Impact (SAAVI), Mr. Chandru Acharya, in response to a call by Equality Lab for a Twitterstorm campaign for today, Wednesday, April 8 “to call attention to the rise of Islamophobia during a global pandemic in India.” Equality Labs reached out to various organizations, including SAAVI, through an email that was sent to a distribution list called South Asian Coalition.

[Note: I am publishing this letter in my capacity as a friend of SAAVI with the permission of its author and President, Mr. Chandru Acharya. As a Hindu scholar-activist, I am committed to supporting grassroots organizations and to amplifying their voices. If you would like to communicate with and/or support SAAVI and the work that they do, you can contact them here.]

Dear Equality Labs,

Please remove SAAVI from your distribution list permanently. We do not feel that your organization represents the interests of all South Asians with integrity or honesty.

SAAVI has board members who are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Atheist and Christian and is a secular organization which has a body of work in Michigan with Interfaith organizations serving people of all faiths and even people of no faith with the same amount of passion and honesty. We do not subscribe to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, Hinduphobia, Sikhphobia, or Buddhistphobia. All of them exist in society and each one of them needs to be fought with equal might. In terms of phobias, there are no lesser evils.

As far as the Tabligi Jamaat’s international conference and the reckless endangerment to human lives is concerned, the law of the land should handle the matter. The administrations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and a host of countries whose members attended the conference are all treating this matter with the seriousness it deserves. Our ordinary Muslim brothers and sisters should not to be blamed or held responsible for the acts of the Jamaat.

In response to your claims of Islamophobia and hysteria on social media, there is ample evidence that Hindu hardliners, Islamists, and plenty of other folks with extreme positions troll online. It is ugly out there and it is not uniquely Islamophobic or Hindu nationalist. Unfortunately although I dislike these trolls and their harassment, it is the price that we pay in a democracy to protect free speech. With hostilities between India and Pakistan in play, it is very clear that both sides are using the online space to make their case and make the other look like an unsafe place for minorities. Very recently I saw thousands of Hinduphobic responses on Twitter originating from North America, the UK, Pakistan, and Bangladesh when a small fringe group of crazy folks allegedly had a “Cow-piss party” in India to counter the Coronavirus. This was widely circulated in social media circles and projected as a regular Hindu practice. Hinduism and Hindus were spoken about in a derogatory light. Hindu shaming and Hinduphobia was rampant.

“Equality Labs” said nothing about this.

Now I would like to address a core issue that has bothered our organization for a long time.

Our observation is that the “South Asian Coalition group” has primarily chosen anti-India positions and highlights only certain sections of minorities when it comes to matters related to South Asia. In the context of all of South Asia, the focus is only on human rights in India. Why don’t the minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan also figure in your petitions and campaigns with the same frequency? Even though it has branded itself as South Asian, it appears to fall short while addressing the persecution of minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh with the same intensity that it advocates for the cause of Muslims in India. In South Asia, you find Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Communist/Naxalite and Buddhist extremists and victims from all communities.

Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities like Shias and Ahmadiyya Muslims have faced brutalities and continue to face horrific atrocities in other countries in South Asia. Conveniently, none of this seems to be on your radar. It appears that you weaponize the pain of one group and ignore and even silence the pain of other groups as lesser equals.

This discrimination in advocacy is evident when you talk of Islamophobia faced by Kashmiri Muslims alone, but consistently choose to ignore the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs that has happened in the Kashmir Valley. In the United States, there are scores of Kashmiri Hindu families who can narrate tragic tales and personal accounts of rapes, murders, forced conversion, and horrors that their families underwent at the hand of extremists. The South Asian Coalition rarely denounces Hindu shaming or calls out Hinduphobia. Hindu tragedies are buried. When NPR producer Furkan Khan made Hinduphobic tweets, many South Asian groups exhibited deafening silence. When asked to comment on the documented persecution of Hindus in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh, you refer to these facts as “Hindu Nationalist talking points.” This exhibits a shocking lack of empathy, consistency, and integrity. It is obviously the last resort of somebody who has run out facts to counter. Unfortunately, you are undermining genuine Islamophobia by using it as a camouflage for phobia towards other faiths. A Hinduphobe is as bad as an Islamophobe. When a Muslim speaks out about Islamophobia he does not become a Islamist and when a Hindu speaks out about Hinduphobia he does not become a Hindu nationalist.

Below are several links below that can throw light on minority oppression in the South Asian region. I would like to see this South Asian Coalition exhibiting true courage in countering all kinds of extremism.We are interested in supporting South Asian Groups that are equidistant from all kinds of extremism and not just one form of extremism.

Fighting Islamophobia is a just cause and we will fight it in our own way as we will fight all kinds of phobias. Our approach is to bring people together and not polarize people based on fear mongering and geo-political agendas. We have assessed your narrative and have determined that it is motivated more by a political objective to stoke fear and divisiveness than a genuine concern for people. Amplifying certain social media comments and propagating them to achieve fear-based solidarity in the minds of communities is playing into the hands of the divisive forces.

When we see action and concern from your side that is based on dignity to each life irrespective of faith, we will support your cause. At this point in time there is a trust deficit and we are not convinced by your claims of impartiality. Our stand is for all of humanity. We do not pick and choose groups to support based on geopolitical interests.

The entire world is reeling under COVID and it is time for all to stop politics. Let us spend our time serving the needs of people rather than add fuel to the ecosystem of hate and division. SAAVI is busy helping doctors and frontline workers in Michigan with medical supplies and meals. (Incidentally, the last couple of surgical masks that we delivered were to our Muslim neighbors.) We have volunteers from multiple faiths and we serve all without discrimination. We build intergroup communities, we do not tear them apart. Our commitment is to love all humans equally. The divisive approach of pitching Hindus versus Muslims, Hindus versus Sikhs, etc. based on social media chatter is not something that we will indulge in.

You may pursue your dishonest political agenda in the name of humanitarianism. We will continue with our service of humanity. We request that you not use our organization as a guinea pig or an experiment in your Equality Labs.

We therefore do not want to be part of your mailing list.

Thank you,

Chandru Acharya

President, SAAVI

SAAVI (South Asian American Voices for Impact) is a Michigan based non-profit, non-partisan community organization that strives to serve specific issues of South Asian Americans through advocacy, education, and outreach efforts. Predominantly, the South Asian American community includes people originally from South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

To address the collective needs of the pan-Asian Pacific American Organizations in Michigan, SAAVI also plays a vital role of an enabling agent to groups that are disenfranchised due to ethnic, social, religious and linguistic differences. In addition, SAAVI works in coalition with several grassroots advocacy groups, local community groups and cultural organizations in addition to city, county, and state agencies.

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