Helmed by Indian American Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council resolution condemns CAA, affirms Seattle as a welcoming city.
Washington state’s largest city, Seattle, has spoken out loudly against India’s new controversial citizenship law and its proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In what may be called a historic moment, the Seattle City Council, late on February 3, passed a resolution condemning the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and opposing NRC.
The Resolution 31926, making Seattle the first US city to do so, was introduced earlier this year by Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who is an Indian American.
Enacted last December, CAA fast tracks Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution from three Islamic neighbors — Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Specifically CAA offers Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from these countries who came to India before December 31, 2014, a path to Indian citizenship after six years instead of the usual 12 for others.
Opponents of the law call it violative of the secular Indian constitution as it excludes Muslims. A Constitution bench of the Indian Supreme Court hearing a challenge to CAA has declined to stay its implementation.
Before the vote on the resolution, Sawant said, “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, or the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
“As a Jew, it was not lost on me that that resolution passed on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,” Sawant’s colleague on the council Tammy Morales said. “It is important that we stand up for human dignity, for the right of people to find refuge from violence regardless of their religion.”
The atmosphere in Seattle Council was charged as it met Monday to consider the resolution with both anti-CAA protestors and CAA supporters voicing their stands.
But in the end, the city of Seattle chose to pass the resolution that according to many human rights activists should set the precedent for other US states to follow.
Many Seattle-area South Asian organizations had come out to speak out for human rights, religious freedom, and taking a stand against alleged caste discrimination in India.
Monday’s vote in City Council affirmed Seattle as a welcoming city, and expressed City Council’s solidarity with Seattle’s South Asian community regardless of religion and caste, according to organizations backing the resolution.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), a coalition of progressive South Asian American groups, praised the City Council of Seattle for unanimously passing the resolution.
“The hearing in City Hall was a source of immense satisfaction for hundreds of activists who have rallied against the CAA and NRC and found their elected officials unanimous in expressing their solidarity with the plight of those struggling against religious and caste discrimination,” the group said in a press release. “The NRC and the CAA, individually and in combination, are rightly seen as an existential threat to India as a pluralist, democratic society.”
“We welcome the Seattle City Council’s resolution denouncing the divisive and draconian CAA and NRC,” said Javed Sikander with Seattle’s Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) chapter.
“These acts are designed to disenfranchise several million Muslim, Dalits, and other minorities to create a fascist state,” he alleged.
Support for Seattle’s resolution has grown rapidly, with local organizations API Chaya, Tasveer, IAMC Seattle, CAIR Washington, Seattle South Asians Building Accountability & Healing, Khalsa Gurmat Center Federal Way, and the Seattle LGBTQ Commission joining national organizations Equality Labs, Amnesty International USA, and the Ambedkar King Study Circle.
Seattle-area residents recognize that international condemnation will apply pressure on the Indian government to account for the alleged discrimination and violence perpetuated by the CAA and NRC.
Govind Acharya, India Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, said: “India’s passage of the CAA coupled with the NRC poses a grave threat to India’s pluralism and threatens minorities, particularly Muslims, with an ongoing fear of losing their identity as Indians.
“The government of India is particularly attuned to actions by US local authorities, and even though this is symbolic, Seattle City Council’s stance will be heard in New Delhi and will have a real impact.”
“Seattle is leading the moral consensus in the global outcry against the CAA. When genocidal campaigns begin, one important intervention is international condemnation, and the Seattle community feels a deep sense of solidarity with their elected officials, as the time to stand against the Indian government’s Islamophobic policies is now,” said Executive Director of Equality Labs Thenmozhi Soundarajan, “These genocidal projects happen in the shadows and this resolution highlights the significance of the Seattle City Council standing up for South Asian minorities, Muslims, and caste oppressed communities.”
On India’s Republic Day, January 26, hundreds of people had held a protest rally in Bellevue on January 26.