Dear Desi people of Tufts,
As the school year begins, I want to know how we are planning to change. We have explicitly stayed apolitical in the past. In my time at Tufts, South Asian organizations have not done the work of amplifying the voices of Black activists and thinkers, or actively educated ourselves on anti-Blackness in our communities. Only this summer when the murder of George Floyd led to Black Lives Matter protests erupting across the United States—and it felt socially unacceptable to not acknowledge what was occurring—did we draft statements and sign petitions. Tufts Association of South Asians (TASA) put out a statement saying that they are no longer remaining silent and are aiming to use their platform to “support causes that value compassion, humanity, and community, both at home and abroad.” Now, how are we going to follow through on the promises we made?
Time and time again, I have seen the majority of the Desi community at Tufts turn a blind eye when it comes to social activism and civic engagement. We have turned away from many appeals for solidarity from organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the South Asian Political Action Community. Hasan Khan, a junior who has been a member of the Tufts South Asian community since he joined Tufts Bhangra his first semester, said, “South Asian campus life feels like it’s all about getting drunk at the TASA Culture Show after-party and not taking any social responsibility ever. Most people agree that it’s the two nights when we feel most like a community, which says a lot.” Shouldn’t community mean showing up for one another in tangible ways? When will we realize that our implicit and explicit commitments to being “apolitical” are nothing more than commitments to being self-serving and negligent?
In December 2019, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which openly discriminates against Muslims and other marginalized groups, including low-income people and the LGBTQ community. Yet since then, there has more or less been silence from the major South Asian organizations at Tufts. Remarkably, Hindu Students Council, or HSC (which is not inherently a South Asian organization, but consists predominantly of students who identify as Indian), explicitly expressed their desire to stay neutral as an organization around this topic. The organization has historically remained apolitical because of the national branch’s ties to Hindu nationalism. Given that India is a Hindu-majority country governed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, it is particularly dangerous for a Hindu organization to stay apolitical in this matter. By staying silent on political and social issues, HSC continues to perpetuate violence against Muslims and other marginalized communities.
In the spring, Tufts President Tony Monaco put out a statement denouncing the work of Students for Justice in Palestine, prompting many student organizations to demonstrate their support for SJP and their disapproval of the Tufts administration’s racist silencing of SJP. The Tufts Bhangra team, an organization to which I belong, decided not to sign the petition because certain members of the team felt that they did not want to mix dance with politics. While it is true that the first priority of the Bhangra team is dance, it is unacceptable for us to stand by and be complicit as we watch the administration of our university antagonize a student group over and over again just because it does not affect us directly. Additionally, support from recognized organizations is deeply important. The team chose not to sign not because a member disagreed with the petition, but because they wanted to refrain from “politics” altogether. But we often forget that what we consider politics usually refers to human lives at stake.
If we have the luxury to avoid fighting for social justice, it is largely a result of the different forms of privilege we possess. Whether we are part of the South Asian Diaspora or international students from South Asia, many of us possess forms of racial, caste, religious, and class privilege. We can’t forget that many of our parents and grandparents immigrated here to pursue higher education or with existing college degrees. We can’t forget that many of our families benefited from caste privilege in India, and many more of us benefit from class privilege both in the United States and the countries we leave to come study here. Many of us benefit from anti-Black, casteist, and Islamophobic systems. Meanwhile, we tell stories about how we didn’t fit in at school for being brown or how other kids laughed at the food we brought for lunch or that we felt too Desi for the United States but not quite Desi enough for the places in South Asia from which we hail. I know firsthand that these experiences were damaging and isolating, but we cannot get so absorbed in our feelings of otherness that we forget to fight for one another and for other marginalized groups whose voices we could be amplifying.
We cannot claim the fun parts of being South Asian, of being brown, of being people of color, while at the same time not claiming the responsibilities that we have to one another and to other groups. We claim that we are a community, but community is more than sharing an identity. Community is showing up for each other and for those outside the community. Claiming neutrality is equal to being on the side of the oppressor. Why aren’t HSC and Hindus in general at Tufts addressing ongoing violence towards Dalits in India? Since when have art and social change been completely distinct from one another? The dance teams should be using their art and platforms as vehicles for social change and to support marginalized groups both in the United States and in South Asia. Now that TASA has put out a statement denouncing their past decisions to stay apolitical, what are we going to do as a community to put actions behind our words and sustain them long-term?
Here is short, non-comprehensive list of ways that we as a community can begin to demonstrate solidarity:
- We need to encourage the organizations we are part of—especially those that are not politics or activism-focused—to stand in solidarity with other organizations on campus working towards liberation and human rights. Institutional support is meaningful and necessary, and if our organizations aren’t providing that support, it’s up to us to talk to the leadership, start conversations in the group, and make it happen. We should be signing petitions both as organizations and as individuals, having conversations to make our spaces more welcoming and safe to those with marginalized identities, and representing our organizations at educational events and actions organized by activist organizations.
- Get involved with activist organizations on campus! This includes groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, South Asian Political Action Community, Tufts Labor Coalition, Tufts Asian Student Coalition, United for Immigrant Justice, Tufts Student Coalition for Anti-Racism, and so many more. You can look them up on social media and a lot of them are having general interest meetings around this time!
- Let’s continue educating ourselves on anti-Blackness, on caste, on Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more. A few organizations and individuals that I follow on Instagram who have unpacked these topics and share additional resources (especially book suggestions!) include @equalitylabs, @thefatsextherapist, @standwkashmir, @ihartericka, @alokvmenon, @vrye, @nonamehiding, and @adalahjusticeproject. Additionally, those of us with class privilege should be redistributing our wealth regularly to grassroots efforts, to the funds of [queer & trans] BIPOC, and to the people we learn from.