Now is the time for City Council to finally denounce religious discrimination in India

Council members didn’t pass a resolution last year condemning extremism targeting Christians and Muslims. This year, elected officials must right their wrongs and uphold India’s values of democracy, equality and secularism.

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Activists shout slogans during a protest against hate speech in New Delhi, India, Dec.27, 2021.

Activists shout slogans during a protest against hate speech in New Delhi, India, Dec.27, 2021. Indian police have begun investigating a Hindu monk for making highly provocative speeches against Muslims and organizing a closed-door meeting that called for their genocide,

Manish Swarup/AP Photos

On Wednesday, India commemorated its 72nd annual Republic Day, a national holiday similar to America’s Fourth of July that celebrates India’s values of democracy, equality and secularism.

Chicago City Council had the chance in 2021 to pass a resolution in support of these values and in solidarity with the city’s Indian American community. Instead, the council shamefully failed.

Developments in India last month — including violent Hindu extremists attacking Christianity on Christmas and explicitly calling for a genocide of the country’s over 200 million Muslims — reveal that in its failure to stand up for democracy, the council has chosen to stand with India’s dictatorial Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his oppressive BJP government.

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Prime Minister Modi’s government is so flagrantly oppressive towards its Christian community — 30 million strong — that it attacked St. Mother Teresa’s legacy, on Christmas Day no less, by blocking overseas funding for her organization Missionaries of Charity, one of the “most recognizable Christian charities in the world.”  This attack on the Nobel Prize-winning St. Mother Teresa was accompanied by wide-ranging intimidation of the Christian community, including vigilantes vandalizing statues of Jesus Christ and gangs interfering with Christmas services.

The day after Christmas, a politician in Modi’s BJP party explicitly called for the conversion of Christians and other minorities to Hinduism, suggesting that Hindu temples set goals for numbers of individuals converted. These actions wholly contradict India’s founding values of a secular nation where all faiths are equal. While today Modi’s extremist policies target Mother Teresa’s organization, Modi’s political and ideological allies have shockingly erected statues and temples celebrating the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

Modi and his allies’ vision reveres violence, not only in the individual assassination of Gandhi but also on a national scale, explicitly calling for genocide against religious minorities. From Dec. 17-19, 2021 in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Haridwar, India’s politicians from Modi’s party joined Hindu religious leaders for a purported “religious convening” where leaders explicitly called for a genocide against India’s Muslim community.

A violent extremist religious leader stated that “If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation… Be ready to kill and go to jail.” At a Jan. 12 U.S. congressional briefing co-sponsored by a group of 17 human rights and interfaith organizations about the gathering in Hardiwar, Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, stated that the event “was exactly aimed at inciting the genocide of Muslims” and that “As the leader of India [Prime Minister Modi] has an obligation to denounce this genocidal speech... Yet, Narendra Modi has not spoken against it.”

Sunita Viswanath, executive director of U.S.-based Hindus for Human Rights, stated that “The speeches made in Haridwar are an explicit call for genocide against Muslims by religious leaders who are close to the ruling party, the government.” The Indian government’s participation in such alarming events demonstrates just how dire the situation in India is.

Breaking ranks with a multi-city movement

The renowned South African Archbishop and activist, the late Desmond Tutu, said that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In voting down the 2020 resolution honoring India’s Republic Day, some council members cited a flawed argument propagated by pro-Modi supporters that the resolution was “divisive.” Pro-Modi supporters proudly gang up to target minority communities in India (as described above), but would be outraged and demand justice if their own minority faith faced this same oppression here in the U.S.

The City Council also broke ranks with a movement in over 10 other cities that passed resolutions in support of India’s democratic values, including in Seattle; San Francisco; Albany, New York; Cambridge, Massachusetts; St. Paul, Minnesota; and within Illinois, including Riverdale and Harvey).

Change in India is possible, as demonstrated by the recent repeal of controversial agricultural laws after global protests including in Chicago at Daley Plaza.

This year, elected officials in Chicago and Illinois must right their wrongs. They must act to uphold the values of India’s Republic Day — democracy, equality and secularism. That action is necessary to send a clear message to Prime Minister Modi that Chicago and the U.S. will not stand by as Hindu extremists force the conversion of Christians and perpetrate an announced genocide against Muslims.

Pushkar Sharma and Cyrus Rab are members of the Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India. 

Sharma has worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and for the United Nations in Kosovo, the Gaza Strip, Colombia, Myanmar, and Iraq. Rab is a human rights and education activist based in Chicago.

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