September 26, 2022
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India is miles away but its tyranny is shaking, shaping American politics

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Last weekend, a Muslim activist in India was arrested and had his house bulldozed by authorities who suspected him of orchestrating demonstrations that turned violent in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Javed Muhammad, whose daughter Afreen Fatima is also an organizer, wasn’t the only one whose family’s property was destroyed. At least two others protesting Islamophobic remarks made by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had their homes razed.

“Bulldozer justice” has recently become commonplace against Muslim activists and business owners in India.

Meanwhile, American supporters of the BJP and its affiliated ultra right-wing, paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh verbally steamroll and harass, like a swarm of agitated bees, anyone in the United States who dares to call out India’s abysmal treatment of its religious minorities, oppressed castes and other marginalized groups.

Then they retract their stingers in the presence of politicians and community leaders and lure them into a honey trap, convincing them that any criticism of India is offensive and divisive.

This is exactly how many City Council members were persuaded last year into shooting down a non-binding, bare-bones resolution that simply said discrimination in India is wrong. Chicago leaders shouldn’t weigh in on international matters, some argued. But less than a year later, a resolution supporting the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” was passed by the City Council without controversy.

Many South Asians of all faiths, horrified by the bloodshed and bigotry overseas, believe a similar playbook has been pulled out with the recent statements issued in defense of U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who has upset many of his former supporters for cozying up to Modi and other BJP/RSS leaders.

“The days … of making threats against non-white people, especially because of the color of their skin, their religious affiliation, or their country of origin must remain behind us,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted after writer and activist Pieter Friedrich stood outside the congressman’s Schaumburg office on May 21 and said, “Nazis out, Raja must go” and a desi slogan that offended Krishnamoorthi.

Friedrich has been a thorn in Krishnamoorthi’s side since he moved to the western suburbs from California last month to shine a light on the influence of right-wing India in local politics. Friedrich’s style is brash, and his Nazi references can hurt the cause of Muslim rights.

The issue, though, isn’t about him. It’s about the persecution in India that has been swept under the rug by many American leaders because of the handiwork of their BJP/RSS-supporting donors.

Jackson said he took issue with language Friedrich used.

Curiously, Jackson’s four-part tweet echoed the talking points of Indian Americans who fought against the City Council resolution and failed to mention Friedrich has been speaking out against oppression in India.

Krishnamoorthi accused Friedrich of making death threats for chanting “Krishnamoorthi murdabad.”

Murdabad literally translates to “death to” in Hindi and Urdu.

However, when used in political discourse in India and Pakistan, murdabad means “down with,” according to Tyler Williams, an associate professor of South Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. “It is absolutely not a death threat,” Williams said.

Friedrich maintains he only referenced Hitler’s party because the most influential RSS leader was inspired by Nazi Germany.

Friedrich went on to say the homophobic and anti-abortion remarks Equality Illinois and Secretary of State Jesse White denounced him for in their support of Krishnamoorthi were made when he was a Christian fundamentalist as a teenager. “I own them and bear responsibility but I repudiate these views now,” said Friedrich, 36.

Krishnamoorthi, meanwhile, told me he is “very concerned” about the rhetoric being used against Muslims and other minorities by the BJP/RSS and that he condemns any violence carried out by them.

The congressman did rush out to O’Hare Airport in 2017 to join protesters and immigration lawyers when Donald Trump issued the “Muslim ban.” He also put out statements condemning the derogatory comments made about Prophet Muhammad by leading BJP members and the call for a genocide of Muslims at a conference in India earlier this year. Much appreciated.

But it is hard to ignore Krishnamoorthi’s reported attendance at several events organized by Hindu nationalists, including a 94th birthday commemoration of the RSS, a group Williams described as the Indian equivalent of the Proud Boys.

You can’t stand against someone when you are standing with them.

Krishnamoorthi is on the right side on domestic matters — Black Lives Matter, the environment, etc. — but when it comes to India, he’s “cheerleading for the Modi government” said Nikhil Mandalaparthy, the advocacy director of Hindus for Human Rights.

Krishnamoorthi said he is willing to meet with those worried about the tyrannical hold that has taken over India and conceded, “I need to do more in continuing to speak out.”

We’ll be waiting.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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