Chicago’s Foreign Policy?

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Members of Indian-American community protest Windy City’s resolution on India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

Members of the Chicago Indian American community traveled via trolley to distribute flyers to Chicago’s 49th and 50th ward residents opposing Chicago City Council resolution R2020-583 on March 22, 2021. The resolution speaks against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. Photo credit: Vandana Jhingan

A prominent group of Chicago area Indian Americans held a press conference on March 14 to address Chicago City Council resolution R2020-583. Resolution R2020-583 proposed by the Chicago City Council classifies the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2019 as discriminatory because it uses religion-based criteria to grant citizenship.

Now an increasing number of Indian Americans in Chicago are urging the Chicago City Council to reject resolution R2020-583.The group says the resolution (R2020-583) proposed by Maria Elaine Hadden, alderman of Chicago’s 49th ward, promotes disinformation and disharmony.

“People don’t understand the history behind CAA. This act has nothing to do with discrimination against Muslims or any other religious group. The CAA was created by the Supreme Court of India for refugees and people facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,” said Amitabh Mittal, who is among a group of prominent community members working actively to urge the City Council to reject the resolution.

History of Citizen Amendment Act 

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Indian Parliament in 2019 is an amended version of the Citizenship Act passed in 1955. The CAA enacted to provide a legal pathway to Indian citizenship for refugees facing religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian refugees fleeing religious persecution who arrived in India from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan before the end of December 2014 can acquire citizenship within five years. The CAA does not change or impact the citizenship or rights of nearly 200 million Muslims who continue to enjoy the same rights as other communities under the Constitution of India.

According to Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CohNa), the resolution proposed by the City Council reveals a poor understanding of the issues impacting India’s 1.3 billion people.

“By passing Resolution R2020-583, the city is essentially saying that severely persecuted minorities and refugees deserve no extra kindness, help, or accommodation. Even more perversely, the city is condemning those who seek to help the most destitute as engaging in discrimination,” stated Nikunj Trivedi, president of Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), in a letter sent to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

49th & 50th Ward Residents Respond 

Residents of Chicago’s 49th & 50th ward protest the anti -CAA resolution R2020-583 regarding India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, outside alderman Maria Hadden’s office on March 22, 2021, in Chicago. Photo credit: Vandana Jhinghan

Ahead of the City Council’s vote on March 24, the group held a walk by protest on March 22 outside 49th ward alderman Maria Hadden’s office opposing the resolution.  Community activists canvassed the 49th and 50th wards on Monday passing out flyers objecting to the resolution.

“Today, I am despondent. Our community has been living in such harmony throughout these years. They are breaking that sense of community with this resolution,” said Santosh Kumar, founder of Metropolitan Asian Family Services, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides services to immigrant communities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and East Europe. Kumar says that she has been serving the community for more than 20 years with love and care and is fearful that this resolution will create disharmony among her constituents.

Indian Americans, especially Hindus, say that the resolution is divisive.  “We are a loving people. We have had no disputes, no quarrels or any record of any religious-based violence. We don’t want to divide our community in any ward,” said Sohan Joshi, who has lived in Chicago’s 50th ward for more than 49 years. “This will be a problem for our children twenty years from now,” he added.

“It vilifies the Hindu faith and our community which always worked hard to live in peace and harmony in Chicago with other minorities,” said community leader and journalist Vandana Jhinghan. Many from our community feel there is so much misinformation regarding the purpose of CAA. The mainstream press and special interests continue to vilify the CAA using it as a political pawn when it was meant to help refugees,” Jhingan said.

The group has also raised concerns about whether city councils should be legislating on global issues.

“It’s not appropriate for the City Council, which represents nearly three million people, to make a judgment or pass resolutions about another sovereign democracy 8,000 miles away that represents 1.3 billion people,” said Dr. Bharat H Barai, chairman of the US India Friendship Council. “It’s better if the City Council spends its time and resources for the residents of Chicago legislating on issues such as crime, education, and healthcare,” Barai said.

To date, the group has galvanized more than 4,000 phone calls and numerous letters to Chicago alderpersons urging them to reject the resolution.

 

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