By Arnab Mondal
The Indian community in Chicago has come out in support of Muslims after India passed a new citizenship bill last December that discriminates against the religious minority group.
India has been rocked by protests since Dec. 12, when the government passed a law that accelerated citizenship for foreign-born non-Muslim religious minorities from the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the time that he wanted to protect non-Muslims, who were being persecuted in those Muslim-majority nations, but many Indians fear the move would discriminate against Muslims and chip away at the country’s secular constitution.
Critics have charged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, was acting on its anti-Muslim agenda.
In Chicago, Indian Americans took to the streets to protest against the law. Hundreds of people marched to the Indian consulate on Jan. 26, the Indian Republic Day. The rally was attended by organizations like Indian American Muslim Council and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, as well as other human rights activists and student groups.
Bodhi Vani, a student at the University of Chicago, said that it was important for Indians in Chicago to voice their protests against such oppressive measures.
“We have the responsibility to use this position to center the voices of those being oppressed back in India,” she said.
Anuranjan Sethi, a founding member of Northwestern University’s South Asia Solidarity Group, an advocacy group interested in South Asian issues, said it was not only important to condemn the discrimination itself but also to speak categorically against discriminatory laws.
“We want to show that this is not about a conflict between Hindus and Muslims,” he said. “It is about fighting against a certain kind of a government and its arrogance in pushing its prejudices on to the public.”
But Sethi also said that some Indian students at NU were against the protests, adding that the Indian student community mirrored the diversity of opinions in their home country. “People automatically have come together as a part of a certain social class they belong to, and somehow religion seems to also automatically build into it,” he said.
According to Junaid Ahmed, the president of the Chicago branch of Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group in the U.S., a few groups were trying to use the opportunity to sow anti-Muslim sentiment.
Ahmed, who has lived in Chicago since he was 13 years old, said the religious schism started five or six years ago.
“Since the South Asian community was such a minority back then, we were just happy to see another Indian,” he said.
Ahmed said he was glad that many Hindus in Chicago had come out in solidarity with the Muslims.
Many non-Indian organizations, such as the graduate students’ unions at University of Chicago and Northwestern University, also expressed their support.
Bodhi Vani said it was important to spread awareness about the developments in India. “The world is not reacting with appropriate condemnation to what is happening in India, and the only way we can change that is by disseminating information,” she said.