Evelyn Crunden ’13
Last Monday, EKTA, Smith’s on-campus South Asian student organization, came together with Dean of Religious Life Jennifer Walters and Al-Iman, the campus’ group for Muslim students, in an attempt to bring awareness to the escalation of sectarian violence in Pakistan. The candlelight vigil gathered approximately 20 students from around campus for a few words and a moment of silence, surrounded by flickering candles.
Walters’ address reminded the crowd of the horrors occurring all over the world. In Pakistan, tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims have always been precarious, but recent times have pushed them to the breaking point, leading to an escalation of violence and the deaths of hundreds. With minority Shias pitted against majority Sunnis, much of the violence has been directed at Hazaras – a predominately Shia subgroup from Afghanistan who are facing frequent discrimination in neighboring Pakistan. Groups like these have become the subject of such harsh and unyielding sectarian division, with attacks occurring daily and death rates rising swiftly.
During the vigil, Al-Iman member Mariam Bhuiyan ’14 spoke about the situation, and was followed by EKTA member Rajiha Mehdi ’13 who shared a few words about her own experiences as a Pakistani.
“I wonder if I care so much because it could have been my brother, my family,” she said, commenting on the close-to-home nature of much of the violence, as well as the incredibly real and painful impact it has had and will have on many Smith students.
She spoke in reference to the death of Murtaza Haider, a 12-year-old boy who was killed in an affluent neighborhood in Lahore. Haider’s death reflects the unprecedented level of violence currently raging in the country. Killed along with his father, his death struck a chord for students like Mehdi, who are frustrated with a lack of attention to the issue and the ongoing persistence of crisis within the region.
“In order to stop sectarian violence, we the privileged have to use our privilege to condemn the atrocious acts of violence and have to stand with the persecuted,” said Mehdi, “and that is what we did today. We stood against intolerance and injustice.”
Those in the crowd participated for varying reasons, but the majority expressed a desire for peace and a disenchantment with a global culture of violence.
“I am tired of people within the same faith killing each other when we should all be united,” said Mina Zahin ’15. “I am tired of people from different faiths killing each other. I think we need to work to spread and encourage peace so that we can all coexist.” Her sentiments were echoed by the majority of the crowd, some of whom carried signs begging for peace and all of whom took a moment to bow their heads in solidarity for a silent moment of reflection.
As the vigil came to a close, the crowd took a moment to mingle and thank those near them in a warm expression of gratitude. Some left feeling comforted, others more informed and educated on the topic. EKTA and Al-Iman will continue discussions of the issue throughout its duration, and encourage students all over campus to get involved.