At this time of the year for Hindu South Africans, an unprecedented amount of religious controversy floats around in the news and in our community. A religious day is taken and flipped to make Hindu people feel guilty for celebrating Diwali. Assimilation is something most of us have had to deal with but even in 2018, there are people who refuse to accept that there are others who live differently compared to them.
Imagine this: you are twelve-years-old and your teacher is telling the whole class how Diwali should be celebrated. She says, “Fireworks cause too much damage and that Diwali is a festival of light, not of noise!” Keep in mind this teacher is a white Christian lady with no true concept of what it means to be Hindu or to have a minority faith in a class of young and impressionable minds.
Now you are eighteen and you are celebrating your last Diwali as a high school student. Your dad is lighting fireworks at the designated time you have been assigned; two doors down you hear your neighbours shouting. They tell you to stop the fireworks because their child is sleeping and they make you feel terrible. Dad responds by implying that they should adopt a culture of tolerance and teach their child about other cultures.
I don’t have to imagine any of this because it is my truth. When I was sitting in that class of predominately Christian people, I was made to feel shame. How could something that gets my teachers so angry really be any good? I didn’t want to be Punjabi anymore or dress up in any Indian attire. My mum still makes me bring a parcel of sweetmeats for my teachers. They all enjoy it during lunch, which is a really confusing dynamic for a twelve-year-old. Is my religion good or bad to them?
When I was eighteen I felt more guilt then I have ever felt before. My neighbours made me feel like I was ruining their child’s life. After the fight between them and my father, my parents and I spoke until two in the morning about how colonialist and apartheid mentalities are alive and well. I will never forget that Diwali. What is especially interesting about these particular neighbours is that they make noise almost every day, their family comes in and out and talk loudly while the children scream. I studied for my finals without complaining about it.
I don’t know what it is like around the world but here, Indian people usually tend to shy away from conflict; not all, just some, and my family raised me to be as accommodating as possible and as empathetic as possible. I never understood why I had to be these things but no one else did. Spoiler alert! I still don’t get it! I have been very stressed about Diwali this year. I’ve been worried about the conflict that will result and about the stories I’ll read in the paper of the repetitive complaints.
I have to mention that Diwali isn’t a sudden shock to people; the same paper that states all the rules and restrictions we have also mentions the dates Diwali be on, so why are people so flustered? The complaints oddly enough do not exist for New Year’s Day fireworks. I do understand that fireworks are dangerous and should be handled carefully but surely there is a better way of spreading the message than telling Hindus to be quiet and light a candle or something.
It is this discrimination that is pushed onto people that creates a circle of hate. There are only certain parts of my culture and my faith that are approved by entitled people who want you to be only as they allow you to be, people who want you to know your place — that it is beneath them. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that the newspapers do acknowledge the religious importance and they wish us a happy Diwali but the perspective of acknowledging and speaking up about the religious shaming of Hindus is not one that is often spoken about.
It’s time to truly become a country of acceptance, and this will not change until the socio-economic dynamic of South Africa changes and all people can live peacefully.
This sort of discrimination sinks into our subconscious and makes us develop an internal hatred. I find that the only way to combat this feeling is to keep doing what you need to do. People are going to fight with us and they will write nasty emails and get it published in newspapers. All we have to do is carry on living; living fearlessly is the best form of protest after all.
Don’t let hate stop you from rocking that sari and being loud and having fun and being noticed! You let them know this is life now and they will just have to learn to love the way the colours light up the sky. Why should we fear guilt and judgment when we are not doing anything wrong? We live in this generation and we should be accepting of other people and if they don’t accept you it doesn’t matter! You need to accept yourself and have confidence in your faith. Be kind and live fearlessly!