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City Council resolution denouncing discrimination in India should be a no-brainer

But the resolution has been gutted so as to appease the Consulate of India in Chicago and other defenders of India’s right-wing nationalist prime minister and his reactionary political party.

In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, relatives and neighbors wail near the body of Mohammad Mudasir, 31, who was killed in communal violence in New Delhi, India. Many of the Muslim victims of last year’s bloody violence say they have run repeatedly into a refusal by police to investigate complaints against Hindu rioters.
In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, relatives and neighbors wail near the body of Mohammad Mudasir, 31, who was killed in communal violence in New Delhi, India. Many of the Muslim victims of last year’s bloody violence say they have run repeatedly into a refusal by police to investigate complaints against Hindu rioters. Some hope the courts will still come to their help. But others now believe the justice system under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has become stacked against them.
AP

I was in pigtails and braces watching an Independence Day celebration in my mother’s hometown in India when a girl who looked like me decided I was inferior after I told her my last name.

“Muslim,” she said dismissively, turning to her friend.

This was back in 1983 and, luckily, I wasn’t physically beaten like the boy recently who revealed his and his father’s Muslim names after drinking water inside a Hindu temple.

But the girl’s tone had just enough venom to relay spite.

Islamophobia in India has festered into a gaping wound since then, poked and prodded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the Chicago City Council over the last several months, approval of a resolution denouncing the BJP’s anti-Muslim zealotry and reactionary policies should have been a slam dunk. We are a town that prides itself on being a “welcoming city” — a sanctuary — for all.

But the resolution has been passed around like a hot potato and gutted in negotiations so as to appease the Consulate of India in Chicago and other defenders of Modi and the BJP.

The City Council is expected next week to vote on the dramatically watered-down resolution, which will represent a failure of character. The resolution now consists of a single paragraph lifted from President Joe Biden’s website and a portion of a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Scrubbed from the original resolution is a comparison of Modi’s India to President Donald Trump’s bigoted vision of America.

Edited out is India Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah’s description of undocumented Muslim immigrants as “termites” and “infiltrators.”

And the revised resolution makes no mention at all of the BJP and its most vulnerable targets: Muslims, oppressed castes, Christians, women and the LGBTQ and indigenous communities.

In this Feb. 25, 2020 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace after giving a joint statement in New Delhi, India.
In this Feb. 25, 2020 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace after giving a joint statement in New Delhi, India.
AP

The resolution, as it stands now, mostly just urges India to condemn religiously motivated violence and prosecute those who attack protesters and journalists. It requests that India restore the rights of people living in Muslim-majority Kashmir. And it expresses disappointment in India’s creation of a National Register of Citizens, which excludes nearly 2 million Muslims in Assam from citizenship, and passage of the Citizen Amendment Act.

Those unfamiliar with current events in India would have to do additional research to learn that the Register of Citizens and the CAA have been widely protested as attempts to deport hundreds of thousands of India’s 200 million Muslims.

I understand that legislative bodies routinely rework symbolic resolutions such as this one. That’s the democratic process. But at a time when facts are under attack around the world and our own country is finally confronting the worst whitewashing of its past, it’s sad to see that some are willingly tip-toeing around reality.

The resolution’s lead sponsor, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), told me she found it “odd” that the Indian government was allowed so much “input,” and she was astonished by the “interference and deference.”

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, which acted as a mediator in the negotiations, told me that it has heard from “stakeholders...including, but not limited to, human rights advocates, the South Asian diaspora and the Indian government.”

Alderwoman Maria Hadden (49th) in 2019.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th)
Rich Hein/For the Sun-Times

The Consulate of India has not returned my calls, nor has Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who asked last month that the resolution be tabled. He was supported in this by Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th).

The Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India, which first approached Hadden last summer about introducing the resolution, is disappointed in the changes. The group, which includes Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, points out that resolutions similar in wording to the original Chicago resolution already have been approved in other municipalities, including San Francisco, Seattle and, most recently, south suburban Riverdale.

Still, the coalition is holding out hope that the final City Council resolution, whittled down as it may be, will shine a spotlight on the tyranny that has gripped India.

Not everyone sees it that way.

The US India Friendship Council, based in suburban Carol Stream, is offended that any resolution might be approved at all. The Friendship Council has hired a lobbyist, former Chicago Ald. Joe Moore, to work against the resolution.

It is “inappropriate” for the City Council to pass a resolution that “singles out India, picks on Hindus” and is designed to “instigate Muslims,” Dr. Bharat Barai, a member of the Friendship Council, told me.

Many Muslims in India live in harmony with their Hindu friends, he reminded me, and there is religious discrimination in neighboring Pakistan — a 97% Muslim country — too.

Right.

The author Rummana Hussain (bottom right) and brother Kamran (second row left with light blue stripped shirt) with relatives in their mother’s childhood home.
The author Rummana Hussain (bottom right) and brother Kamran (second row left with light blue stripped shirt) with relatives in their mother’s childhood home.
Provided

Those Muslims in India that Barai speaks of include my relatives. But that doesn’t mean they’re breaking out in a celebratory Bollywood jig over what’s happening.

Hindus are, I agree, being picked on, too — but by Modi and the BJP. Among those targeted have been Dalits, journalists, outspoken students, environmental activists and farmers protesting new agricultural laws.

And let’s not pretend to a false equivalency. If a Chicago alderman were to introduce a resolution calling out Pakistan for religious discrimination, you can be pretty sure nobody would care what the Islamic republic’s government had to say.

Communal violence has bloodied the hands of many since modern-day India was created 74 years ago. But the latest venomous wave of bigotry is a one-sided onslaught.

Muslims “suspected” of eating beef have been bludgeoned to death.

The Taj Mahal, commissioned by a Muslim Mughal emperor in 1632, has been taken off its home state’s tourism brochure.

And many Indians, including a Muslim teenager who was walking a Hindu girl home, have been arrested on local “anti-conversion” laws — an atrocious development in any country, but especially in one that has presented itself as a beacon of democracy and secularism.

What a shame that it is so hard to give the Chicago City Council an opportunity to take a vote on the truth.

Rummana Hussain is an assistant metro editor at the Chicago Sun-Times

Original proposed resolution on India

Updated resolution on India expected to be presented at the March 24, 2021, City Council meeting