This week, I had a moment of near deja vu. It was more than 8 years ago that I first offered to participate in a prayer event in Troy, MI and was denied. It was the City’s 2004 National Day of Prayer event. Fortunately, the mayor welcomed me during her opening remarks, and I was able to offer a prayer of well-being for our community. This year, a church in our community is organizing an ecumenical prayer vigil in memory of gun violence victims, and I am going to offer a prayer again – this time, highlighting the importance of non-violence, or ahimsa.
After Sandy Hook, we at the Hindu American Foundation had discussions on guns, gun violence and what was our stand as a human rights organization. We are all Hindus, and obviously, there are a multitude of issues where we have a multitude of opinions. The Truth is One, but there are many paths, after all. But we found common ground in agreeing that common sense should prevail. Representatives of the Foundation attended the Vice President’s meeting to discuss curbing gun violence. HAF also submitted recommendations to President Barack Obama detailing a Hindu perspective on violence as well as concrete measures aimed at reducing gun violence and improving gun safety. Raman Khanna, who serves on HAF’s Executive Council with me, crafted the response below to a dissenter, Mr. Parag Tope, who directly singled out HAF, and makes some points which are quite misleading, in his recent article, “Hinduism Calls for an Armed and Vigilant Society.”
In his response to HAF’s letter to the President, Mr. Parag Tope makes a salient point with which HAF would agree — namely, that Hindus should resist oppression, and in many cases, actively rebel against a tyrannical regime. In fact, HAF makes the same point in the first and second paragraphs of its letter — that the desirability of ahimsa as a general rule should be balanced against the necessity of himsa in the service of Dharma. We share his veneration of those warriors who have taken up arms in this way, from Arjuna and Rana Pratap to Mr. Tope’s own great-grandfather, Tatya Tope.
Where we disagree is in the generalization Mr. Tope tries to draw. Unlike him, perhaps, we do not believe that the lessons of colonial India can be directly applied in a modern, democratic America. The American government is neither tyrannical nor oppressive, neither to Hindus nor to the broader public. It is a functional, accountable government deriving its legitimacy from the democratic process and the consent of the governed, a government to which the Hindus living within its borders have sworn either an explicit or implicit oath of citizenship to honor and defend. Hindus are in no way barred from joining the government at any level, as evidenced by Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu-American in Congress and in fact a veteran herself, and by numerous Hindus who have served in the U.S. armed forces and have worked in police departments. Hindus are not barred either from legitimate and peaceful methods of dissent. In this context, there is no justification for Hindu Americans betraying our oaths and even contemplating rebellion against the U.S. government, much less planning for it, as there was during the British Raj.
Balanced against the miniscule likelihood of needing to rebel against the U.S. government should it turn tyrannical is the very real harm done by automatic weapons. Members of the Hindu American community have seen the senseless, real, and often-repeated harms done to human beings by the free availability of weapons of war–weapons whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of individuals in a short period time. We have seen the repercussions in emergency rooms, in operation theaters, in courtrooms. Too often, we have seen the repercussions in funerals we attend for co-workers, colleagues, friends, or family members.
Nor is HAF’s request anywhere near as expansive as Mr. Tope makes it out to be. As noted in the letter to the President, we are asking for a ban on two kinds of weapons: assault rifles and guns that can be smuggled through metal detectors. We are also asking for a better universal background check system to ensure those who do own guns can be reasonably trusted to use them responsibly and safely. There is nothing in HAF’s letter about confiscation.
We at HAF strongly reiterate the stand on all of the issues raised in our letter. The very real himsa of allowing criminals and the mentally ill to continue to buy weapons of war, or any weapons without background checks, far outweigh the benefit of maybe, someday, somewhere in the U.S., a Hindu being able to resist a tyrannical — and curiously ill-equipped — government by having an AR-15 at his or her disposal. There is no ideology in this statement — simply common sense.