Never Normalize Tragedy

Last week, a gunman opened fire at students and faculty at Umpqua Community College, killing ten people, injuring 20 more, and leading to the gunman’s death. His name is not necessary to know; it’s joining a long list of hundreds of mass shooting that have take place in the last several years. His target: Christians, according to some reports from eyewitnesses, but an overall goal of shedding all blood at any cost. His motives: Fascination of mass shootings and rampages. This has now become a trend and I cannot stand it.

From Virginia Tech, to Aurora, to Oak Creek, to Chapel Hill, to Charleston, and now to Umpqua, Oregon… All places that became infamous for an emergence of violence at the hands of a variety of individuals, either mentally unstable, bigoted and ignorant, or victims of their own experiences and suffering. What have we done as a country, as a society, and as a people to really create change? Even the statements and actions of our stagnant Congress seem useless, when lobbyists and certain representatives are fighting for their own victories and interests, rather than for a long term solution to a big problem. I cannot sit here and say that the issue will be resolved between “more guns” and “gun control” because of the social stalemate we have created for ourselves in showing apathy towards this matter. No one is willing to come to terms about having a genuine conversation and change, and it certainly won’t stop the death toll unless we do something about this soon.

Around the world, similar patterns of violence are being traced by bigoted intentions and selfish motives in a variety of ways. In India, a Muslim man was killed by a mob of Hindus in Northern India for a rumor about him slaughtering a cow and eating it, another man was burned alive for being of a lower caste, and an 8 year old girl was beaten to death for having her head covering slip off in public. The situations of Iraq and Syria do not need an introduction; their chaos is being manned by people claiming to be Muslim and who wish to instill their will and interpreted law on all others. What we share, as human treading the same ground, is a greater majority that stands and does nothing in the midst of chaos. 

My faith traditions have always taught me that patience and determination were the roots of good labor and service to all people. Hearing these injustices take place over and over again, and becoming a social norm, are tearing away at my heartstrings. How far do we have to go to make a change? Do we need to wait until every single person on this earth has to directly feel the impact of losing someone at the hands of a weapon? Do we need to make every person feel suffering and loss at the hands of another individual for us to say it is time to make a change?

We can change only when our empathy crosses the bounds of diversity and reflects that the hate and ignorance of people are our common enemy… not the people who hold the ideas themselves. The essence of rehabilitation and the transformation of mindsets only comes from our individual responsibility to commit the change. We can wait for every other person to make a difference in the community and the society you come from, but when there is a need for a deep, systemic change that can impact generations ahead of you… every person matters. It is our duty to help every person who is suffering and oppressed in our world; to side only with those who we understand takes away from our real understanding of the common human condition and its suffering.

In any country around the world, developed or developing, it is neither helpful nor sane to normalize a cycle of violence that threatens societies and generations. We feed into this cycle as perpetrators whether we are bystanders or negative contributors. Silence in the face of injustice is a kind of darkness that light cannot dissipate. Those who feed into fear and ignorance to invigorate goals of chaos cannot continue to be the figureheads and leaders that plant seeds of hate. We, the silent majority, but sacrifice all of our might and will to make justice, peace, and equality prevail over all else.

Work is being done to demand voice and representation. I worked with Sunita Vishwanath and a progressive Hindu coalition called Sadhana to have Hindus speak up all over the world in condemning the death of Mohammed Akhlaq,the Muslim man who was killed over the beef rumor, and making sure his family receives justice from the Indian government: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/704/384/547/hindus-woldwide-denounce-murder-of-mohammed-akhlaq-by-a-hindu-mob/

Major organizations and individuals are collecting funds for refugees who are fleeing the terror of ISIL to find asylum. Major organizations like the UNHCR and UK-based Khalsa Aid are looking for funds to feed and give resources to the many displaced people fleeing to Europe and other parts of the Middle East. I could write long lists of the number of organizations who are going to the front lines to support people… But it doesn’t draw away from every individual’s responsibility towards one another.

The reason I am making these points is because I come from a story of fear that transformed into demands for change. Many people know I was inspired to enter the work that I do following the Oak Creek shooting in Wisconsin of a Sikh temple by a White supremacist. What people don’t realize know was that my fear and silence were what first caught my attention. I did not want to come back to the US as I had heard the news of what happened during a family visit to new Delhi. I feared that my one sanctuary of peace was desecrated and that I could not find peace anywhere else. But when I realized the lives that could be stake through my silence, I removed all the anger and silence from my body and became a force that knew to bring a voice to the oppressed and just action for a better world.

This same fear, anger, ignorance, and dread is what holds many of us back from doing anything. Change it now because you have always had and will always have the power to do so. We must remember that none of us are exempt from this reality and this experience we call life. Our future inevitably will bring us to the graveyard, but it doesn’t mean we push others to go there first for the sake of our own conveniences. Demand the changes we need in policy, in social norms, and in our minds and hearts to make this world a better place. We need it now before it’s too late.

I cannot tell you what the right answer is. I cannot tell you which solution fits these many issues best. But I will tell you this: We cannot be sure what works until we try it. This also does not mean we mobilize behind a single solution either, because our contexts and your communities require more than a single solutions to solve their many problems. It requires a joint, diverse effort to drive a systemic change and we need all the people we can get.

About Tahil Sharma

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