#ModiNotWelcome 'Reclaiming Diwali' from Modi and the Hindutva fascists

One major event of the #ModiNotWelcome campaign was ‘Reclaim Diwali’, described by the organisers as ‘a secular celebration of shared cultures and blurred boundaries’ which would ‘burn the demons of fascism, religious hatred, patriarchy, caste, homophobia, corporate looting, racism, imperialism and environmental destruction’. The event showcased the work of many of the most exciting, mainly South Asian artists in the UK and was an inspiring display of international solidarity against Hindutva fascism, linking up powerfully with the theme of the campaign.

At a packed hall in south London on Friday 6th November, some 200 people attended the cultural event, organised jointly by South Asia Solidarity Group, Dalit Solidarity Network, South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, and Freedom Without Fear Platform.

There was a powerful sense of solidarity between these UK based groups and their South Asian counterparts – one that reflects the involvement of the diaspora in the campaign against Modi, and people’s determination to counter his supporters in the UK. The HSS, the British wing of the RSS, is active in organising lavish celebrations of Diwali, for example through Hindutva-dominated Indian Student Societies in universities. The fact that the centrepiece of Modi’s visit – his Wembley event - claimed to be itself celebrating Diwali made it all the more crucial to ‘reclaim’ the notion of Diwali in a united and universal fashion.

The dancers included Kali Chandrasegaram who performed a Rumi inspired piece set to Indian classical music about reclaiming one’s different selves followed by a modern dance about breaking boundaries and transgressing rules about sexuality and whom one should love. Poets included Talha Ahsan – winner of the Platinum and Bronze Koestler Award for 2012 – who was recently released after being detained without charge or trial for six years in the UK and then extradited to America where he spent another year in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison awaiting trial. Among the poems he read was one titled ‘Otherstani’ which echoed the feelings of minorities in India today.

There were also comedy sketches about the rights of cows to urinate in private by award-winning writer and filmmaker Tariq Mehmood. Other well-known performers included rising star, singer-songwriter Tabitha Benjamin who has a host of fans in the UK, and Kenyan poet Wangui Wa Goro, well known for her anti-imperialist and feminist activism.

Messages of solidarity were received from numerous organizations. Sat Pal Muman, Chairperson of CasteWatchUK – the UK’s largest Dalit organization- condemned the rising atrocities against Dalits and urged the enthusiastic crowd to be at the demonstration against Modi. Andrea D’Cruz from London Palestine Action spoke about the links between Israel and Hindutva groups, highlighting the fact that India is the largest purchaser of Israeli arms. Sanjeevini Dutta of Kadam Dance and Music said that under the current order, history is being re-written, academics threatened and the press gagged. She said “We want you to know that many of us are watching your moves and we will speak out against these over and over again.” Nirmala Rajasingham from the Kalalaya Arts Foundation UK condemned “the imprisoning of the progressive activist and folk singer Kovan, a week ago, by the Tamil Nadu government, under sedition charges purely because his popular song against the Tamil Nadu government’s Tasmac Alcohol outlets went viral and the repressive campaign of the Indian state against the Dalit arts group Kabir Kala Manch.”

Artists and speakers alike urged the audience to join the demonstration against Modi when he arrived the following week and make it the biggest protest which Modi has yet encountered on his trips abroad.

The show had started with ‘Confluence’ by poet Shruti Iyer while spoken word artist Shareefa Energy brought the evening to a resounding close with pieces like ‘Thomas Cook’ and ‘Phoenix Bonfire.’

Liberation Archive