Indian-American Lawmakers Advocate Constructive Dialogue on Human Rights with India

Featured & Cover Indian American Lawmakers Advocate Constructive Dialogue on Human Rights with India

Indian-American lawmakers reaffirmed on Thursday their commitment to addressing human rights issues in India with its leadership but cautioned that lecturing New Delhi is counterproductive. They advocated for a constructive dialogue on these concerns.

“India was colonized for over 100 years,” said Congressman Ro Khanna, speaking to the Indian American community during the ‘Desi Decides’ Summit of Indian American Impact. “When discussing human rights with figures like External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, you have to understand that just coming in from the perspective of lecturing India… it is not going to be productive.”

Khanna, who co-chairs the Congressional India Caucus, was joined by Indian American lawmakers Shri Thanedar, Pramila Jayapal, and Dr. Ami Bera. The panel discussion, moderated by ABC national correspondent Zohreen Shah, addressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with the Muslim community.

“Having a conversation 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.

Bera agreed with Khanna’s approach, emphasizing the importance of India maintaining its secular identity. “If India loses its secular nature, it changes who she is as a country and how the rest of the world views it,” he said. Bera drew a distinction between Modi’s leadership and a potential Trump presidency in the U.S., underscoring the resilience of American democracy. “Because we 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 for India’s future.”

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

Jayapal concurred with both Bera and Khanna, emphasizing the importance of addressing imperfections both in the U.S. and globally. “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. India is an important partner for us. It’s an important partner because of other regional dynamics as well and global dynamics.”

She stressed that holding India accountable does not contradict the U.S. values of promoting human rights and democracy. “It is also important for us to think about our values. Just like we criticize 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.”

Jayapal shared her personal experiences facing criticism for her stance on these issues. “I know that I have been called a bad Indian and all kinds of other things for raising these. 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.”

Thanedar emphasized the strategic importance of a robust India-U.S. relationship, particularly in countering Chinese aggression. “We need a strong US-India relationship. India historically has been playing both sides, Russia and 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 recognize India’s power, its economic power, and India remains the best solution to counteract China’s aggression. So, I’m just working on a strong India-US relationship.”

Indian-American lawmakers are urging a balanced approach to discussing human rights with India, one that recognizes the historical context and promotes mutual democratic values. They stress the importance of maintaining a strong bilateral relationship while addressing issues like press freedom and secularism.

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