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Republic Day: U.S. Lawmakers, Human Rights Activists Discuss Ways to Protect India’s Pluralist Constitution

Republic Day: U.S. Lawmakers, Human Rights Activists Discuss Ways to Protect India’s Pluralist Constitution

  • The webinar was organized by U.S.-based human rights groups to mark India’s 73rd Republic Day.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has said that it is the duty of the United States to speak out when fundamental human rights are under attack no matter where, noting how in recent years, there’s been a rise in online hate speech and acts of hate in India. “We will continue to honor the strong ties shared by our two countries [U.S. and India] while ensuring we speak up when a fellow democracy and strategic partner is unable to protect the rights of all of their people.”

He was speaking at a webinar held today, Jan. 26 to mark India’s 73rd Republic Day, where U.S. lawmakers, civil and human rights activists and international leaders spoke on how the widespread persecution of religious minorities and human rights defenders, as well as a spate of anti-democratic legislation in India, threatens and undermines the nation’s pluralist Constitution.

Markey is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is chairman of the subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. He also serves on the subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism.

The Congressional briefing on “Protecting India’s Pluralist Constitution,” was organized by 17 U.S.-based human rights organizations including Amnesty International USA, Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights and Genocide Watch.

The event was moderated by Hindus for Human Rights Board Member Sravya Tadepalli, who said that “a clear and present danger to India’s Constitution has emerged since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014,” and added that “as a Hindu and part of a religious tradition that believes all human beings are inherently divine, I believe it is my duty to speak out when oppressed people face atrocities.”

In his brief address, Rep. Andy Levine (D-Mich.) pledged to use his power in the Congress “to be a great ally for my beloved India and to work to keep it a free, open, pluralistic and democratic society that works for all Indian people.” Levine, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, is also a part of the India Caucus. His congressional colleagues, Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said they shared the commitment to democracy and touted the strong alliance between the U.S. and India.

“We must stand together against polarization, discrimination, dehumanization, and persecution,” said McGovern, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “Let’s use this Republic Day to renew our shared commitment to Liberal democracy and the respect for the universal human rights of every person that makes it possible.”

Raskin, also a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, called on the Indian government “to respect and restore the basic human rights of all citizens of your great country, irrespective of caste, creed, religion.”

Hamid Ansari, former Vice President of India who served from 2007 to 2017, expressed his concern over the rising trend of Hindu nationalism. “In recent years, we have experienced emergence of trends and practices that dispute the well-established principle of civic nationalism and interposes a new and imaginary practice of cultural nationalism,” he said. “It wants to distinguish citizens on the basis of their faith, give vent to intolerance, insinuate otherness, and promote disquiet and insecurity.” 

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He also urged swift action against these human rights offenses, asserting that “these trends need to be contested legally and contested politically.”

Noting that “religious freedom conditions in India have been deteriorating at a rapid pace in recent years,” Nadine Maenza, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), added that since 2014, the BJP led government “has increasingly institutionalized its ideological vision of a Hindu state.”

Others who spoke at the briefing were Kerry Kennedy, president, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Archbishop Peter Machado of the Archdiocese of Bangalore; Carolyn Nash, Asia Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA; and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim the sixth and the first female president of Mauritius.

(Top photo: India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru signing the Indian constitution, which was adopted on January 26, 1950).

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