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Celebrating Diwali in the Time of War: Perpetuation of Collective Guilt and the Weaponization of Suffering

Celebrating Diwali in the Time of War: Perpetuation of Collective Guilt and the Weaponization of Suffering

  • The dubious motives behind Hindu Americans being subtly branded as insensitive or immoral for celebrating Diwali in the U.S. or elsewhere this year during the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas.

Amid the tragedy of the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel and the civilian casualties in Gaza, the actual victims of war – innocent civilians and their families – are often overlooked. As the saying goes, the first casualty of war is often the truth, and the cacophony of voices that emerge in the wake of such conflicts can drown out the voices of peace.

The world is full of conflicts and suffering, but also of diversity and joy. While some people advocate for empathy and dialogue, others use online platforms, social media, and messaging apps to spread their divisive agendas. They target minority groups, such as Indian and Hindu Americans, while directly or subtly branding them as insensitive or immoral for celebrating Diwali in the U.S. or elsewhere this year during the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas.

Based on the “Costs of War” research project conducted by Brown University, from Sept 2001 to March 2023, in different war zones, direct civilian casualties were 432,093, while indirect casualties were 3.6-3.8 Million. In other words, close to an average of 200,000 civilian casualties per year took place in several war zones. I wonder how many of these years, any of these guilt-imposing ideologues refrained from living their everyday lives and celebrations that come along. I am not suggesting anyone should refrain from joyous moments, nor am I suggesting that no one should care about what is happening in the world. 

However, how many other communities took ownership of continuous mourning for the global happenings? Will these activists demand that the entire country not celebrate this holiday season? If it is not creating conflicts for others, let people choose how they want to live their lives. It helps the community and larger society to remain steadfast, keep progressing, and with that progress, help others.

The resilience of the human spirit is evident in the aftermath of tragedies like 9/11. I recall the devastated New York City held its Saturday Night Live comedy show, in just 18 days, on September 28, 2001. People on the stage, in the audience, and those watching from home across America had tears in their eyes, yet unwaveringly standing against the greatest odd, faced to date. It was not a display of “life goes on,” but a display of standing firm as an American society against the horror and not forgetting what the American life is. There can be ideological and political differences about actions as well as decisions deemed to be right or wrong then and years ahead. Still, American society shone with its collective stand while not succumbing to terror or trauma and refusing to be consumed by negativity.

In the same spirit, Indian and Hindu Americans have always fulfilled their social responsibilities, even during tough times. The community’s Diwali celebrations, before and after COVID, and later, are always observed to include charitable drives and initiatives. But it is deeply concerning that these acts of kindness are being used to alienate further and marginalize the Hindu community in the U.S. This constant attempt to breed hate against a well-integrated community is not only un-American but also deeply undemocratic.

In a democracy, all voices should be heard and respected, regardless of ideology or background. The day those who seek to silence alternative viewpoints and impose their own narrow worldview realize the true spirit of democracy and human rights, hopefully, at such time, they will start contributing constructively to society, eliminating social hate and agony. It will be the day that society can begin to heal and move forward.  

Till then, while passing through this challenging time for the world, I would like to chant lines from the ancient Hindu script, Yejurveda, wishing for peace within and across the universe.

 ॐ द्यौः शान्तिरन्तरिक्षं शान्तिः
पृथिवी शान्तिरापः शान्तिरोषधयः शान्तिः।
वनस्पतयः शान्तिर्विश्वेदेवाः शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्तिः
सर्वं शान्तिः शान्तिरेव शान्तिः सा मा शान्तिरेधि॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥ –

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— यजुर्वेद ३६:१७ 

Om. May peace radiate there in the whole sky as well as in the vast ethereal space everywhere.
May peace reign all over this earth, in water, and in all herbs, trees, and creepers.
May peace flow over the whole universe.
May peace be in the Whole Universe.
And may there always exist in all peace and peace alone.
Om peace, peace, and peace to us and all beings!

— Yajurveda, 36:17

Vikas Deshpande is a member of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA.

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  • Very well said. Some divisive forces are always looking for opportunities to defame the Hindu/Indian Americans. As the articles mentioned, the Hindu community took the Sewa Diwali initiative during these difficult times and served the needy with food collection/distribution. But some folks don’t see a need to appreciate these efforts, instead try to impose guilt for celebrations.

  • Of course the idea that Hindus should not observe Diwali because of war is unreasonable.
    Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) had the perfect solution this this question.
    HfHR centered the call for peace, and the very Shanti Mantra that has been shared here in this article, in the observation of Diwali.
    HfHR’s Diwali prayers were for the light of peace and justice — in Gaza, in Manipura, in Ukraine, in Sudan, and beyond.. — to conquer the darkenss of war and injustice.

  • Does the article identify those criticizing celebration of Diwali by Hindus that I missed? I have seen many leaders including Muslim Mayor of London & Hindu PM of UK , President & VP of USA celebrating Diwali.
    Individuals like Rupi Kaur are entitled to decline an invitation for Diwali celebration. It is her personal choice. Did she question others for celebrating?
    Times of India wrote “This year, Diwali celebrations have reached a record level and is becoming mainstream in New York City.”

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