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HomeHeadline newsLecturing India on human rights would not work; conversation will: Indian-American lawmakers

Lecturing India on human rights would not work; conversation will: Indian-American lawmakers

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Indian-American lawmakers have emphasized that lecturing India on human rights is unlikely to be effective, advocating instead for a constructive dialogue with the country’s leadership to address concerns.

During the “Desi Decides” Summit organized by Indian American Impact on Thursday, Congressman Ro Khanna, co-chair of the Congressional India Caucus, along with fellow Democratic lawmakers Shri Thanedar, Pramila Jayapal, and Dr. Ami Bera, discussed this approach. They affirmed their commitment to continue raising human rights issues with India’s leaders through ongoing conversations.

“India was colonised for over 100 years. So, when we’re having a conversation about human rights, and you’re having a conversation with (External Affairs Minister S) Jaishankar or someone else, you have to understand that just coming in from a perspective of lecturing India. When they say that we’ve had colonial powers lecture us for hundreds of years is not going to be productive,” Khanna told members of the Indian-American community.

The panel discussion was moderated by Zohreen Shah, ABC national correspondent, who asked them about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relations with the Muslim community.

“Having a conversation (with India) saying, here are the imperfections in our democracy, what are the imperfections in your democracy, and how do we collectively advance democracy and human rights, I think is a more constructive approach,” Khanna said.

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Bera said he agreed with Khanna. “I’ve said the same to the (Indian) foreign minister. If India loses its secular nation, it changes who she is as a country and how the rest of the world views it,” he said.

He also said that a Trump presidency is not necessarily the same as Prime Minister Modi being in power.

“Because we (the US) still have a vibrant democracy here. We have a vibrant opposition party in the Democratic Party. We still believe in the freedom of the press and those are all things that I worry about India’s future,” he said ahead of the November 2024 US presidential election in which incumbent Joe Biden, a Democrat is set to face former president Donald Trump, a Republican.

“You see what’s happening to the freedom of the press. You’re not really seeing a viable opposition party or it’s being dismantled. A vibrant democracy has to have all of those things, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the ability to push back. I hope you don’t ever see a second Trump presidency. But if that were to happen, you would see our democracy survive the first time, push back, and our democracy will survive. I certainly hope India’s democracy survives,” Bera said.

India has been maintaining that it is a democratic country, with an abiding commitment to the rule of law and to promoting and protecting the human rights of its people.

Jayapal said she agreed with both Bera and Khanna.

“The only thing I would add is that I think we have to be able to critique our own country’s imperfections and any other country’s imperfections. That’s actually our job in Congress. We shouldn’t lecture, I agree with Ro (Khanna). But we do have to think about all of the United States’ interests. That is economic, for sure,” she said.

Jayapal said India is an important partner for the US.

“It’s an important partner because of other regional dynamics as well as global dynamics,” she said.

“It is also important for us to think about our values. Just like we criticise the Chinese government for the treatment of Uyghurs or any other country in the world, we have to be able to also look at what’s happening in India and call attention to it,” she said.

Jayapal said she had been called a “bad Indian” for raising these issues.

“But I would just say I’m not backing away from that because those are the values of the United States. Those are my values. I don’t think it means that you don’t appreciate or like or want a partnership between India and the United States to raise legitimate concerns about freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and all of the other things that we are seeing in India any more than if we raise it here it means somehow that we’re bad Americans. No, that is our job to be moving towards a more perfect union in the United States and with all of our global partnerships,” Jayapal asserted.

Thanedar, also a Democrat, said he favours a strong India-US relationship.

“We need a strong US-India relationship. India historically has been playing both sides, Russia and the US. But it’s time for India to commit to a strong friendship with the United States, and that’s something that I want to work on. The United States has to recognise India’s economic power, and India remains the best solution to counteract China’s aggression. So, I’m just working on a strong India-US relationship,” he said.

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