On December 10, 2018 — International Human Rights Day — I joined hundreds of people as a part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in #LoveKnowsNoBorders, an interfaith protest led by the American Friends Service Committee of the horrific and unjustified human rights violations of the thousands refused safe passage at the U.S./Mexico border, those who are being abused and imprisoned and those who have been murdered.
Click on the image below to open the photo essay from the #LoveKnowsNoBorders action in December, 2018.
We made our way to Friendship Park, a bi-national patch of land crossing San Diego and Tijuana. I walked alongside fellow Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and others in collective prayer to the border fence to perform a religious ceremony in solidarity with the asylum seekers at the border also known as the migrant caravan. We were blocked by barbed wire coil and a menacing row of weaponized men. I noticed their fingers resting millimeters from their gun triggers, snipers stationed nearby, camouflaged men near tanks. All ready for war with priests, imams, and other faith leaders kneeling in the sand, hands linked, singing “God loves us all.”
On that beach I found God. I grew up in Hindu in Iowa. Each week a different family hosted poojas on Sundays. Each week we sat, cross-legged on bed sheets spread on the living room floor, as adults discussed passages from the Gita. And each week the question was the same. How do we find God? Not simply as prayer one day of the week, but in the daily practice of living with honor. I would shyly whisper my philosophical replies in my mother’s ear. Afterwards, we all ate really good Indian food.
There are many reasons I have not publicly proclaimed being Hindu. It’s deeply personal, and has felt scary — that to do so is to willingly navigate tripwires of hotly contested religious and cultural identities. Hinduism, similar to Christian evangelicalism, has been and continues to be used as a pretext for social oppression, consolidating state power, and exacting genocidal agendas.
But growing up, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew my experience. I knew that my larger South Asian community was ethnically diverse and distinctly interfaith. It was Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, atheist, agnostic and more. To me, this was God — being truly together. This spiritual understanding of togetherness deeply informs everything I do and it’s why I’m part of the Poor People’s Campaign today.
It is that unshakeable knowing I had growing up Hindu that divinity resides within us all. All humans, all creatures, all plants — even the rocks and trees. God is within everyone, everything and beyond — too vast to be contained within anything less, including the limitations of our human frailties and injustices here on earth. Therefore to have God as wholly as we can is to collectively realize the flourishing of all on this planet and the earth herself.
On that beach I was reminded of the words of Frederick Douglass, who wrote over a hundred years ago that there is a higher Supreme Court within which oppressive power cannot and will not ever succeed in making “good evil, and evil good.” We must reach towards manifesting that higher law of existence right here in our earthly world. Only then can we truly allow the fullness of God within our lives, within our hearts and within the very fabric of our collective soul. Douglass wrote at a time of such horror and upheaval that “my hopes were never brighter than now.”
In our time, it must not be our judgment to despair but to keep reaching because we deserve nothing less. So I too will keep reaching, back to my early knowing, that unshakeable faith of a child settling for nothing less than all of us truly at the center, nothing less than all of us truly honored as sacred, nothing less than all of us truly together.