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caption: Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Monday, September 18, 2017, at City Hall in Seattle.
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Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Monday, September 18, 2017, at City Hall in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle City Council tangles with Indian politics

South Asian residents showed up in force at a Seattle City Council meeting Monday as council members took on a controversial law in India that some critics say is anti-Muslim.

The tense atmosphere was emblematic of the deep divides among the Indian diaspora when it comes to politics from the homeland.

Over a 100 people signed up for public testimony. More than once Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda warned the boisterous crowd that the council would end public comment if the group would not follow decorum.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed the resolution that passed 5-0. It opposes India’s National Register of Citizens and specifically the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The act was passed in December and led to nationwide protests in India. It amends a previous citizenship act and provides a path to citizenship for religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians but leaves out undocumented, Muslim immigrants.

Seattle University professor Nalini Iyer explains, "A lot of people who have spent all their life in India, [who] born there, don't have papers. As a result, if they're Muslim in particular, they run the risk of not being recognized as citizens. Combined together the National Register of Citizens and the CAA, we're looking at a very anti-Muslim phenomena in India right now."

But for some people, the resolution is 'misguided' and 'divisive.' A petition has more than 12,000 signatures calling on Seattle City Council to reject the resolution and support the CAA.

Arcana Sunil, the organizer behind the petition said on social media that pro-CAA speakers had lined up to speak at the council meeting on Monday since 5 a.m.

The Indian Consulate in San Francisco also reached out to Councilmember Sawant last month warning that the resolution could lead to a "detrimental effect in the overall context of the India-US relations, particularly our bilateral stragetic partnerships."

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Indian Consulate Letter.pdf

A letter from the Indian Consulate in San Francisco to Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, January 2020.

There are an estimated 90,000 foreign-born Washington residents from India, according to Census Bureau data. Most of them are living in the Puget Sound region. Professor Iyer says that when it comes to the Indian diaspora in the Northwest, what happens here ripples out to India, and vice versa.

The resolution passed Monday in Seattle is believed to be among the first in the U.S. to condemn India's CAA.

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