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My comments before the passing of our resolution condemning the Modi regime’s CAA/NRC on February 3rd, 2020

By approving this resolution, the Seattle City Council will show that the city’s legislative body will stand with the widespread protest movement, courageously facing brutal police repression throughout the country against the National Register of Citizens (the NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (the CAA), which in tandem with each other, threaten to strip away the basic rights of hundreds of millions of people.

By approving this resolution, the City Council will go on the record opposing religious persecution and Islamophobia, the discrimination, scapegoating, and oppression of Muslims, poor people, and marginalized communities, by the Hindu fundamentalist regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

By approving this resolution, the City Council will show that we understand that the fight against the right-wing and bigoted agenda of the BJP and of Modi is not separate from, but in fact inextricably linked with, the struggle of American progressives against the bigoted agenda of Trump and the right-wing Republicans. That we cannot fight Trump’s Islamophobic agenda if we do not also oppose the rise of the far right globally. Only last week, the Trump administration expanded the Islamophobic and racist Muslim travel ban to include six additional countries. 

By approving this resolution, the City Council will urge the United States Congress to support legislation censuring the Indian BJP government for adopting policies that are discriminatory to Muslims, oppressed castes, women, indigenous, and LGBTQ people. 

By approving this resolution, the City Council will draw a historic line in the sand, recognizing the ominous similarities between the NRC And the CAA, and the early Nuremberg laws enacted by the Third Reich in 1930s Germany.  Recognizing the credible news reports that the Modi regime has already put many people in the state of Assam in detention centers, and that new detention centers and prisons are being built as we speak. 

Before the concentration camps and the death camps, the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws including the Reich Citizenship Law, which redefined German citizenship to exclude Jewish people. The result was the isolation of Jewish communities, making them an increasingly easy target for scapegoating. The CAA and NRC have ominous echoes. 

As the Board of Directors of the Kadima Reconstructionist Jewish

Community said in their statement supporting this resolution, 

Quote. “Within living memory, policies closely parallel to these were among the first steps taken by the Nazi government of Germany in the 1930s and are now recognizable as initial steps to the Holocaust. Policies such as these were central elements in centuries of systematic oppression of Jews, especially in Europe.” Unquote.

On the other hand, if the City Council does not approve this resolution, it will send a chilling message that for elected officials, taking a stand against dangerous policies that have outlines in them of past horrors only comes when it is convenient and when there is no political courage involved.

I sincerely look forward to each one of us here on the dais taking the morally correct action today by voting yes.

It is ironic for the Modi regime that what they are attempting as a deeply divisive tactic has ended up unifying Indians and Indian immigrants in ways I haven’t seen in my own lifetime. 

I want to thank all the hundreds of Seattle’s Indian Immigrant community members who helped draft and push for this resolution. It has been a real movement from all parts of the Indian American community.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and atheists across all castes from India have come together to voice their opposition to these discriminatory and unjust laws. I specifically wanted to mention the courage and leadership of members of the Dalit community in the Seattle region, because I know how much courage it takes for people from oppressed castes to speak out, given how entrenched the caste system is even in Indian communities outside India.

I thank Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal for using her position on Kashmir.

Thanks also to Redmond Councilmember Varisha Khan and community leaders like Aneelah Afzali and the Muslim Association of the Puget Sound (MAPS).  

I also thank the various organizations who have sent statements strongly urging that the Council pass this resolution, including the Kadima Reconstructionist Jewish Community, as I mentioned before, API Chaya, Amnesty International, One America, the City of Seattle LGBTQ Commission, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Indian American Islamic Council, the group of 42 civil and human rights lawyers of South Asian origin living in the United States who sent a letter, as did Hira Singh on behalf of a group of Sikh organizations, and Imam Fuad Mohamed of the Seattle-area Al-Furqan Islamic Center.

Our movement here in the Pacific Northwest also sends a message of solidarity to the young people, students, and workers all over India, who are fighting back, with mass ongoing demonstrations on university campuses and strike actions since December. I also want to make special mention of the courageous students at Jamia Milia Islamia and the peaceful occupation at Shaheen Bagh. On January 8, there were united protests and strikes across India against these authoritarian laws and against the devastating economic policies of the Modi government. This was the largest general strike ever in global labor history, with Bloomberg newspaper reporting that 250 million people from banks and transport services in the cities to farmers in rural areas stopped work to participate in the strike, grinding the whole country to a halt. 

NRC-CAA

It’s telling that virtually no one who spoke against the resolution here had anything to say about the National Register of Citizens.

Last year, in the Indian state of Assam, the BJP government created an updated, “National Register of Citizens (NRC).” People were forced to prove, with documentary evidence, that they were Indian citizens

If one had even a modicum of honesty, one would have to call the documentation requirements absurd on the face of it, and only logical when you see that it seeks to fulfill the specific agenda of snatching away citizenship rights from large numbers of people.

The NRC rules for documentation require that if you were born before 1971, you have to have your birth certificate. But if you were born after 1971, in other words, if you’re younger than 48 years old, you must have pre-1971 documents with your parents’ or grandparents’ name on it, and documents proving your relationship with your parents or grandparents. 

According to these rules, I would be unable to provide the required documents. 

What the Modi government found through the pilot project they did in the Northeastern state of Assam is that it is impossible to carry out the NRC without also rendering large numbers of Hindus stateless, unless the BJP found some way to target it directly on the Muslim Indians. That is the reason for the Citizenship Amendment Act (the CAA), which gives citizenship without documents to People of some religions, including Hindus, but specifically NOT to Muslim people. 

So, because I have a Hindu name, I would get my Indian Citizenship in the NRC update, despite not having the documentation.

The BJP government claims that the CAA is a humanitarian act aimed at supporting persecuted refugees, and the NRC is nothing to worry about. The experience in Assam proves otherwise. Also, if the CAA were truly about refugees, why is the regime building detention camps? Why doesn’t it allow refugees to come to India instead of retroactively applying to people who immigrated before 2014? If the CAA allows Indian citizenship for oppressed religious minorities in three neighboring countries, why does it pointedly overlook the oppression of the Shia and the Ahmedia Muslim communities in those countries. It is because the CAA’s purpose is to discriminate. If it was about supporting refugees, why does it it exclude persecuted minorities in other countries in the region such as the Rohingya people, who are predominantly Muslim, who are facing genocide in Myanmar, and the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who are the largest refugee group inside India?

Unlike Modi’s BJP government, our movement truly supports the rights of all refugees, regardless of their religion. We support the rights of all marginalized communities in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and around the world. We support the rights of Central American Refugees coming to the US. We do NOT support overt religious discrimination, sold as humanitarianism. 

Why Do This Resolution

The reality is, international attention can be powerful when it can bolster local movements against oppression, and I hope that this resolution will set a precedent that will inspire activists in other cities to demand their own local government take a stand. The BJP government recognizes that, which is why we have seen such push back from India’s Consul General, and other parts of India’s BJP political establishment abroad.

Next Steps and Way Forward

To be clear, while this resolution will be historic, such resolutions will not be sufficient to defeat Modi and the BJP. That question is very similar to the question progressives face in the United States, how do we defeat Trump? And there are a lot of similarities. Trump and Modi even held an odious joint rally last year in Texas called, Howdy Modi.

Both Modi and Trump won their election, not because their xenophobia and Islamophobia have majority support, but because of the complete failure of the political establishment to address the needs of ordinary people. People who hate the BJP voted for them in the elections last year because they saw no alternative, after decades of open corruption, privatizations, and neoliberalism, the Indian National Congress party, which ran India’s central government for 54 years. The BJP stepped into that void, and has unleashed even more corruption, rampant privatization and neoliberalism, along with whipping up Islamophobia, discrimination, and violence, in order to scapegoat specific communities.

Both in the United States, and in India, what is needed is a political party that stands unapologetically for the needs of working people, and the oppressed. Modi won reelection last year because there was not an alternative that people could be inspired by. Imagine if the 10 unions and peasant organizations who organized the January 8 general strike built their own political party. It would totally strip the BJP of much of its support. But that did not happen, and Modi won reelection last year.
And that is a lesson for progressives in the United States, as well. We will not defeat the xenophobic forces behind Trump with the same old corrupt political establishment tied by a thousand threads to Wall Street and the billionaire class. Working people need to build around a political agenda that will inspire people who are usually disgusted and turned off by politics to get involved.

I hope our movement does not stop here.

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