The recent resignation of a published author and a tireless social justice activist as executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) raises too many questions.
It seems that Harsha Walia was forced to quit following her controversial tweet that many believe justified the burning down of churches in B.C. This came after the discovery of mass graves near former residential school sites.
These attacks on churches might be the result of pent-up anger because of what religious educators and the Canadian government did to Indigenous children at these schools, which were created to annihilate the identity and languages of First Nations.
Walia tweeted, “Burn it all down”, leaving many, including myself, in complete shock. She and her supporters may have a point that this wasn’t necessarily a call to torch all the churches and was aimed at decolonizing through the destruction of power structures, but she began facing a backlash soon after.
Being a woman of colour, she endured both misogyny and racism on social media that was unacceptable.
That said, I found her tweet problematic as this sends a wrong message. Considering how Christians too are being persecuted in other parts of the world, such as India, the country I was born in, I have reasons to be worried. Under the right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, attacks on Christians have grown.
The Hindu Right has repeatedly accused Christian missionaries of converting Hindus through inducements and has been attacking their churches. So much so, some right-wing media commentators in India lost no opportunity to amplify the ongoing attacks on churches in Canada to validate their own hateful actions.
Knowing Walia, whom I have always considered as a comrade and sister and who has inspired me to stand up against injustice, I can say that her intentions were not bad or aimed at fanning hatred against any group of people. After all, she has paid her dues by fighting against bigotry. That is one reason, why she has received tremendous support from Indigenous communities and visible minority groups. But I strongly disagree with her choice of words as they may have consequences for Christians where they are in a minority.
However, Walia’s exit from the BCCLA at a time when she has been strongly advocating for climate justice reflects very poorly on a group that claims to be the defender of civil liberties. Her departure at this point can only make big corporations happy. The timing of the entire episode is very significant and compels one to question whether she has been scapegoated. While the BCCLA owes an explanation for why she was put in a position where she felt she had to resign and why the board could not have handled the issue differently, others who went after her must also be held accountable.
Those who accused Walia of spreading hate on social media need to be questioned what they have done to challenge the real hate mongers holding positions of power. How many times have Indo Canadian politicians—so outraged by her tweet—ever blasted the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, whose government is shamelessly perpetuating hate against Christians and Muslims?
How many times have they have confronted Indian diplomats in Canada for what minorities are facing in that country? How many times have they questioned people like Kevin Falcon, who's running for the B.C. Liberal party leadership, for having endorsed an ultra-right wing politician, Maxime Bernier, in the past?
How many times they have challenged the state of Israel for suppressing the Palestinian people?
Walia may have made a silly mistake just once and we cannot punish her for that by glossing over her entire body of work.
Those committing crimes against humanity and spewing venom with impunity while holding powerful positions in our society are far more dangerous. Walia has already paid the price after the pressure she faced, but who is going to talk about the elephant in the room? Who is going to bell the cat?
Shame on those who remain silent over the actions of Modi and for demonstrating such a selective understanding of hate. #StandWithHarsha.