Indian-origin poet Rupi Kaur declined a White House invitation to attend US Vice President Kamala Harris’ Diwali party, terming it “surprising” that the administration found it acceptable to celebrate the festival amid the ongoing Israeli war in Gaza.
In a statement shared on X (formerly known as Twitter), the Canadian writer said, “I decline any invitation from an institution that supports the collective punishment of a trapped civilian population—50% of whom are children.”
I received an invite from the Biden administration for a Diwali event being held by the VP on nov 8. I decline any invitation from an institution that supports the collective punishment of a trapped civilian population—50% of whom are children. pic.twitter.com/J3V5om89Se
— rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) November 6, 2023
In the strongly-worded statement, Kaur said, “Today, the American government is not only funding the bombardment of Gaza, they continue to justify this genocide against Palestinians — regardless of how many refugee camps, health facilities, and places of worship are blown to bits.”
She called on the South-Asian community to hold the US government accountable and to refrain from being “tokenized by their photo-ops.”
Kamala Harris celebrated Diwali at her official residence in Washington last night along with around 300 people, many of Indian origin. Several groups had given a call to boycott the celebrations.
Addressing the attendees, Harris repeated the Biden administration’s official line on the ongoing fighting.
“There is certainly a difficult and dark moment that we are facing in our world in a number of ways, but in particular seeing the images in the reports coming out of Israel and Gaza. And I know for all of us, and certainly for me and for Doug (her husband), it’s devastating and heartbreaking,” she said, as per a report by the news agency PTI.
“I wanted to just be clear with everyone that President (Joe) Biden and I are working to support Israel’s right to defend itself. We support the need for humanitarian aid to be received by the people in Gaza. We believe it is very important to not conflate who the Palestinians are with Hamas and understand the difference,” she said.
Referring to the 240-odd people who were taken hostage to Gaza by the Palestinian militant group Hamas following the October 7 attack, Harris said, “It is critically important that we bring the American hostages home and that we prevent escalation in that region. So I will speak those words, understanding that it is critically important that when we celebrate something like Diwali, it is about also shedding light in a way that is about speaking truth.”
“I also want to say that for the Palestinian people, and I’ve said this many times, and I’ll say it again, they have a right and deserve to have an opportunity for self-determination and dignity. We’ll continue to support that as well,” Harris said.
Here’s Rupi Kaur’s full statement:
A few days ago, I received an invite from the Biden administration for a Diwali event being held by the VP on Nov 8 2023. I’m surprised this administration finds it acceptable to celebrate Diwali, when their support of the current atrocities against Palestinians represent the exact opposite of what this holiday means to many of us.
Diwali is celebrated by people of South Asian heritage worldwide. In the Hindu & Jain traditions, Diwali is the celebration of righteousness over falsehood and knowledge over ignorance.
In the Sikh tradition, during the time of Diwali, our 6th guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, helped free 52 fellow political prisoners from unjust imprisonment. We call this day Bandi Chhor Divas. I have always used this day to reflect on what it means to fight for freedom against oppression.
Today, the American government is not only funding the bombardment of Gaza, they continue to justify this genocide against Palestinians-regardless of how many refugee camps, health facilities, and places of worship are blown to bits. They reject the call for a humanitarian ceasefire—a baseline action being demanded by the United Nations, organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, and a majority of countries. Over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed. The UN says 70% of the dead are women and children. We have seen Israel use white phosphorus bombs, which Amnesty International says must be investigated as a war crime. We’ve seen footage on CNN of Israeli settlers kicking out and occupying the homes of Palestinians in the West Bank.
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I implore my South Asian community to hold this administration accountable. As a Sikh woman, I will not allow my likeness to be used in whitewashing this administration’s actions. I refuse any invitation from an institution that supports the collective punishment of a trapped civilian population—50% of whom are children.
As a community, we cannot remain silent or agreeable just to get a seat at the table. It comes at too high a cost to human life. Many of my contemporaries have told me in private that what’s happening in Gaza is awful, but they aren’t going to risk their livelihood or “a chance at creating change from the inside”. There is no magical change that will happen from being on the inside. We must be brave. We must not be tokenized by their photo-ops. The privilege we lose from speaking up is nothing compared to what Palestinians lose each day because this administration rejects a ceasefire.
When a government’s actions dehumanize people anywhere in the world, it is our moral imperative to call for justice. Do not be afraid. Stand with the world and demand a humanitarian ceasefire. Many voices will join you when you speak. Let us sign petitions. Attend protests. Boycott. Call our reps and say — stop the genocide.
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