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CoHNA urges the City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota not to pass Resolution 20-712. This resolution is deeply flawed, misguided, and divisive. During the unprecedented times of COVID-19 and the difficulties that all our communities are facing, does the Council want to spend precious money, resources, and time on matters that sow seeds of division and hatred? Would the Council and the people of St. Paul not be served better by helping those in need

Resolution 20-712 not only misrepresents the people and the government of India, it also propagates misinformation about India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In doing so, it jeopardizes the Hindu and Indian American community – a minority community that contributes significantly to the welfare and prosperity of the Twin Cities, the state of Minnesota and our great nation. Passing of this resolution will gaslight and harm the Hindu community while peddling Hinduphobia.

First, it is important to understand the CAA. This act, passed in 2019, and an extension of India’s Citizenship Act of 1955, aims to fast-track the citizenship process of persecuted religious minorities (Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, etc.) of the three neighboring Islamic nations of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Also, this act is applicable only to those who fled persecution and entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

This act does not, in any shape or form, alter the citizenship or rights of India’s 200 million Muslims who continue to enjoy the same rights as other communities under the Constitution of India. Nor does it restrict the entry of Muslims from the Islamic nations mentioned above.

Furthermore, even previous governments in India have issued calls for passing such a law – thus it is not unique to the current government and is not a sign of bigotry against Muslims and minorities.

Any statement that deviates from the above is therefore a dangerous political agenda that seeks to harm the good relations between the United States and India. Millions of Americans support India’s effort to protect persecuted religious minorities and the Saint Paul City Council should also do the same. Consider the following reasons:

(1) The persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are on the verge of near demographic extinction. They have been systemically and systematically denied a minimum standard of living. Women and children have been raped and forced into marriages, following conversion. There have been also been reports of starvation and violence during the current COVID-19 crisis. Just in March 2020, radicals from ISIS killed 25 Sikhs – including several women and one child – in Afghanistan, where the total Sikh population is only around 600.

(2) India has historically welcomed religiously persecuted minorities, much like the US, and these minorities have thrived. An especially important example is the tiny but prosperous community of Zoroastrians (Parsis) who fled Iran and made India their home a few centuries ago.

(3) The U.S. has an almost identical law to India’s CAA – the Lautenberg-Specter Amendment. In fact, the great state of Minnesota, with its rich history of welcoming immigrants and refugees, is home to some 12,500 beneficiaries of this very program that benefits Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics, and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians from states of the former Soviet Union. Persecuted Baha’is, Christians, and Jews from Iran, and Indochinese nationals are also included.

(4) In December 2019, the City of St. Paul passed its own resolution “supporting the expansion of access to citizenship, lawful permanent residency, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), asylum, and other forms of immigration status and benefits” and declared that the city welcomes immigrants and refugees. In 2003, Randy Kelly, former Mayor of St. Paul, led a delegation to Thailand to welcome and help 15,000 Hmong refugees from Laos, and help them settle in Minnesota.

By passing Resolution 20-712, the city is essentially reneging on that spirit and opining that other countries and places should not welcome severely persecuted minorities.

Secondly, the resolution is wrong on the claim that the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) will discriminate against LGBTQ people, atheists, Adivasis, Muslims, and low caste Hindus, and demonstrates the Council’s complete lack of knowledge and familiarity about India. The Government of India has made clear that there is no plan for a national NRC. It has also assured that, if and when the NRC is administered, no one will be excluded on the basis of religion, gender, or caste (the latter exists in all faith communities in India, not just among Hindus). There is no basis to claim the Indian Government seeks to discriminate against LGBTQ people. In fact, the BJP led parliament passed the Transgender Protection of Rights Bill that went into effect this past January. The BJP led government also opened India’s first transgender university in 2019.

The inclusion of atheists is ignorant at best and blatantly false at worst. While atheists are persecuted, even beheaded, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, the pluralistic ethos of Indian civilization has given rise and space to various philosophical traditions of atheism.

Resolution 20-712 states that it is reaffirming the city to be “a welcoming city, expressing solidarity with Saint Paul’s South Asian community.” The effect, however, is the opposite. The Saint Paul City Council has single-handedly created divisions in the peaceful South Asian community by venturing into politics it knows little about, and taking cues from organizations that have a history of peddling Hinduphobia and supporting the denigration of Hindu religious festivals and symbols. In doing so, the Council has created a hostile atmosphere for Hindu Americans in the Twin Cities. In an environment where Hindus are already facing discrimination and hatred, such resolutions add fuel to the fire, and advance anti-Hindu prejudice and bigotry that openly discounts the fact that Hindus, Sikhs and other religious minorities continue to be persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

For these reasons, we urge the Saint Paul City Council to uphold their oath, demonstrate responsible governance, and table this non-germane, factually inaccurate, and deeply divisive resolution which will cause irreparable damage to the Hindu community.

Additional Resources:

‘No Hindus will be left after 30 years’ – The Dhaka Tribune

Hindu today, Muslim tomorrow – The Atlantic

Gunmen in Afghanistan kill 25 at Sikh complex, Islamic State claims responsibility – Reuters

The Last Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan Plead for U.S. Help – The Wall Street Journal

SADF FOCUS N.12 – The plight of religious minorities in Pakistan – South Asia Democratic Forum

Searching for Security: The Rising Marginalization of Religious Communities in Pakistan – Minority Rights Group International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute