By Harsha Mallajosyula
On the tenth of September, 2011 Gaurav Gopalan was found dead two blocks from his residence. Gopalan, a native of India was an active member of Khush DC, an LGBTQ South Asian organization in Washington DC. Two weeks later, the DC Medical Examiner ruled the cause of Gopalan’s death as homicide. Gopalan’s death is certain to alarm LGBTQ activists in DC, where a string of LGBTQ hate crimes have been reported in the recent years. A facebook page titled “Remembering Gaurav Gopalan” has 200+ members. Online comments posted about Gaurav remember him as a handsome, kind, youthful person with boundless energy and a love for Shakespeare’s works.
Loss of a young life is always a difficult reality to grapple with, especially in a first world industrialized society. If the young are not meant to prosper here, where then? That this loss was one forced by an act of violence annihilates our narrative as a civil society. A lot about that fateful night is still in the dark. And time will only decide how much of it sees the light. The DC police department are not calling this incident a hate crime yet. Politically it makes sense for them to not have another documented incident of crime perpetrated against a member of our community. What if this really were a hate crime? What resources does the department have to address this issue heads on?
We live in a society where victim blaming in its ever ubiquitous forms feeds on any dialogue surrounding a controversy. In the days to come, through social media or online posts questions will be raised around the circumstances that led to Gopalan’s homicide. What was he wearing? Why was he out by himself? Why, what, who, how…all kinds of irrelevant babble, at times rather outrageously suggesting that Gopalan was at fault! And if not completely at fault, was perhaps to an extent responsible for the happenings of that night? That sadly has become the rhetoric of the times we live in. The perpetrators so far have been largely left out of the online conversations since their identity is yet unknown, so the their motive remains cryptic.
It does not matter what the motive is or any of the how, why and what surrounding Gopalan. What needs to be condemned is the act of violence. Irrespective of how this act of violence gets labelled by an institution (homicide or a hate crime) our conversations need to focus on the utter lack of respect for life shown by the perpetrators. One might never know the incidents of that night but Gopalan’s perpetrators saw him as a target.
What made Gopalan a target is an uncomfortable reminder of the partisan divide that has grappled America. Our airwaves and information sources are constantly fueled with hate speech. In a country where POC, immigrant, queer, gay, trans-gender, liberal, feminist often attract ire and furor from all walks of the society including elected officials, Supreme Court Justices and hopeful Presidential candidates, how could Gopalan not have been a target? Or for that matter any one of us?
In Gopalan’s death we as a community not only need to address the hate that is often targeted at us but also make a commitment to live our lives openly and honestly. Let not the fear of hate stop us from loving and living.