Remembering Sujal Parikh
Sujal Parikh, a PeacePower co-founder, died tragically in a motorcycle accident in October 2010 while volunteering as an HIV/AIDS researcher in Uganda. We miss him dearly as a friend and collaborator in our shared struggle to bring a better world into being through word and deed.
Sujal is well remembered for the gifts he gave as a medical student who was passionate about health equity and social justice. The University of Michigan’s medical school established an annual symposium in his memory, and his friends, family, and colleagues formed a fund-raising campaign in his name. However, few in his medical community may know of his visionary and award-winning role in the fields of nonviolence and conflict transformation as a UC Berkeley undergrad.
Inspired by Prof. Michael Nagler’s classes, Sujal was passionate about Gandhian nonviolence. He worked hard to save a Peace and Conflict Studies nonviolence class that was threatened by budget cuts and an indifferent administration. He also helped to facilitate the peer-led course that established PeacePower magazine in 2005. With his refreshingly no-nonsense approach to creativity and publishing, Sujal proposed the perfect name for our publication. In addition to guiding the overall vision of the project and contributing to our unsigned opeds, Sujal wrote the only article in PeacePower that ever won an award.
Sujal’s commentary on the death penalty, “A New Vision of Justice,” featured both well-researched arguments and an impassioned outrage against the prison-industrial-complex’s sharpest edge. Not one to merely talk about abolishing the death penalty, Sujal was one of hundreds who protested against the execution of anti-gang-violence activist Stan “Tookie” Williams on December 13, 2005. Tookie was one of California’s last prisoners to be executed prior to a court-ordered moratorium on executions in early 2006. Sujal’s indictment of the death penalty proved to be prophetic.
Opposition to violence is only part of what defines nonviolence, in fact the lesser part. Even more important is the creation of a positive alternative. Sujal wrote, “Restorative justice seeks to address the effects of crime on the criminals, their victims, and the community as a whole. Restorative justice gives offended individuals a voice in the resolution process.... In doing so, it uses prevention of crime and reparation of harm as a measure of efficacy, rather than the harshness of a penalty imposed on an offender.” By offering a radical alternative to the old, failed model of retributive justice, Sujal’s article won the Independent Press Association’s award for Best Political Commentary in a Campus Publication, 2005.
Sujal’s final contribution to PeacePower was a poem he proposed we print on the back cover of our second issue, “Peace” by 11-year-old Jojo White. A boy who was tragically killed in a senseless act of American gun violence, Jojo sought a world without bombs, a world where the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, and all people are free. Sujal shared Jojo’s simple, clear, and just vision. Like Jojo, Sujal wanted to be one of the ones who made this world a reality. Sujal carried this fire with him into his graduate school work in health equity, for which he is so deservedly memorialized.
After we featured Jojo’s poem, we made it a tradition to memorialize a select few peace and justice activists on the back cover of each subsequent issue: Tom Fox. Rachel Corrie. Marla Ruzicka. Bruno Hassar. Ken Saro-Wiwa. We now add the name Sujal Parikh to this revered shortlist of those who have so deeply touched the lives of others. We are sad yet also proud that his legacy will live far beyond his time. Although PeacePower has ceased publication and thus we will not be able to place him on the back cover of a sixth issue, we hope this digital tribute will somehow reach those who knew and loved him in other parts of the world, that they may learn something new and inspiring about his life.