This past weekend, as many South Asians around the world geared up to celebrate Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, I, as did many others, reflected on the deep meaning behind these events and how we can honour their spirit in today’s day and age.
I grew up celebrating Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, mainly looking forward to food and fireworks, but today, I reflected on their relationship to equity within this world. Diwali enlightens the way for us to understand that light will have victory over darkness, good will overcome evil, and knowledge will overpower ignorance. Bandi Chhor Divas reminds us of Guru Hargobind Singh Ji’s journey in fighting oppressive empires. The term itself, in English, translates to the day of release for the imprisoned. For myself, this day serves as a reminder of how equity work is engrained into the history of Sikhi. @anoopreet on Instagram did an incredible job of sharing a reflection on how this day serves as a lesson on collective liberation.
Given the deep meaning behind both events, this weekend would be remiss without reflection on the current and ongoing war on Palestine. 5X was able to sit down with Sanad Al Ajrami, a Palestinian youth activist, in regard to his current struggle to share Palestinian voices in a supposedly progressive and inclusive society here in North America.
Sanad Al Ajrami’s advocacy work began at a young age. He has been attending protests and helping educate those around him on histories of oppression ever since he could remember, however, he recognizes the privilege that came from his parents sheltering him from many of the harsh realities of the world while he was younger. Now, as a young adult, the veil is off and Al Ajrami has found himself fighting against the very systems that were supposedly in place to protect him.
Al Ajrami is a second-year computer science student at York University (York). He is of Palestinian descent and holds both Canadian and American citizenship. When asked about what gives him the strength to be so vocal during this time, he says “it is built into my blood to be a strong advocate and speak out against any injustice, not just what is happening right now. Both sides of my family have experienced trauma. My grandparents served as Palestinian politicians. It is a part of me to speak up and to speak out against oppression”.
Here in Canada, York University has been at the epicentre of conversations around the current genocide in Gaza. York is currently in conflict with 3 of its student unions and has also been cited in a multimillion class action lawsuit. Al Ajrami has been one of the many student leaders standing up to the university with the use of peaceful protests and advocating for the Palestinian community. “I can’t talk about my culture, my family, or the fact that we used to exist on this piece of land. These are undeniable truths, but we can’t even say that out loud without fear,” explains Al Ajrami. In addition, Al Ajrami explains that he was attacked during a peaceful pro-Palestinian protest, for which the institution has not yet connected with him. “I pay to be here. I can’t even explain what that feels like. I am paying to be at an institution that won’t even recognize what is happening to my people or protect me,” he continues.
Al Ajrami also joined numerous other Palestinian Canadians to meet with Canadian Prime Minister, Justine Trudeau, to advocate for a call for a ceasefire. Al Ajrami, like many other activists across the world, have been appealing to the proper channels to no avail. “These institutions choose to be loud when it comes to their personal biases and profits, but silent when it harms the community at large. They talk about decolonization but put nothing into practice. It’s all performative,” explains Al Ajrami.
Up until now, more than 65 members of Al Ajrami’s family have been killed.
Amidst their battle against the system, this young activist and many others are raising their voices, demanding action, a ceasefire, and protection against hate crimes. They urge Canadians to acknowledge their responsibility in fostering a safe environment for all, irrespective of their backgrounds or beliefs. They emphasize that being pro-Palestine does not equate to spreading hate, but rather, it is a cry for justice, empathy, and understanding.
In the face of adversity, these brave advocates continue their fight for justice, refusing to be silenced by a system that seems to prioritize profits over people. Their story serves as a stark reminder of the struggles still faced by marginalized communities living within colonial systems. As they navigate the complex web of institutional bias and discrimination, they embody the spirit of resilience, inspiring others to join the fight against injustice, no matter how insurmountable the odds may seem.
I’ve seen the question posed on social media a few times - if you ever wondered how you would have acted during times of slavery, wars or otherwise, this is the moment. This is the moment we get to make a choice.
“The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.” - Maya Angelou
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