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American Indians welcome Illinois lawmaker’s announcement to replace discriminatory provisions of law that defines Indians

A section of the controversial law, section 5, has the potential to discriminate against Muslims

Sabrangindia 28 Sep 2022

Islamophobia
Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Indian Americans living in Illinois have been concerned about a law, passed earlier this year, that erroneously uses religion as a marker to define who Indians are, especially excluding those who are Muslim. Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam said that the state will change a law, passed earlier this year to set up an Indian American Advisory Council, that uses religion to define the Indian American community, thus creating the potential for anti-Muslim discrimination.

Section 5 of the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act’s (HB4070) erroneously describes ‘Indian’ as, “a person descended from any of the countries of the subcontinent that are not primarily Muslim in character, including India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.”

Among those who campaigned to get this section repealed were the Chicago Coalition for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy organisation dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos. After meeting several civil society groups, Senator Villivalam tweeted: “It has been brought to my attention that the Indian American Advisory Council law was drafted with language that is not inclusive to all Indian Americans who call Illinois home. I am committed to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and constituents to rectify this language. Just like we have done with hundreds of other laws and programs, we will ensure this law reflects the diversity and the welcoming nature of our state. I am proud of the work that has been done on behalf of and in collaboration with the Muslim American community.”

Among those who met Senator Villivalam included Asad Khan, veteran Chicago-based civil rights activist; Pushkar Sharma, Co-Founder, Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India (CCHRI); and Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director, IAMC. The activists met several other legislators too, who all committed to replacing the discriminatory law.

“India’s own constitution is secular and pluralistic and does not describe India as a primarily non-Muslim country, so it is disingenuous for Illinois state to create that false description,” Asad Khan said. Added IAMC’s Ahmed: “India is not primarily non-Muslim. Period. It belongs equally to people of all faiths that have lived in India for centuries.”

The activists told Senator Villlivalam and the other lawmakers that describing India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nepal as “primarily non-Muslim” countries was a clear and naked attempt to inject Hindu supremacism and Islamophobia in Illinois,” Ahmed said.

Added Sharma: “We welcome the fact that every legislator we spoke with understood that establishing a South Asian American Advisory Council based on geography, rather than using politically-charged, discriminatory language, was the way forward.”

The current law says the Council will, “advise the [Illinois] Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; to advance the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; to enhance trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, to build relationships with and disseminate information to Indian American and immigrant communities across this State.”

Sharma also tweeted to Senator Villivalam that India was not “a religion; it's a secular country. We must be defined by geography not faith.” Saying that India was home to over 200 million non-Hindu individuals, Sharma tweeted that describing Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka as “Indian-majority countries” was an “inaccurate [and] offensive designation,” and if this was “a South Asian American Council it must include all hailing from ALL South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives).”

The activists urged the lawmakers to pause any appointments to this Council until the law was altered. Illinois must consult extensively with the Indian community, including all faiths, caste, and language, to select the Council’s members, they said

A website of the Illinois Legislature has uploaded the controversial law:

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

(20 ILCS 4120/) Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act.
    (20 ILCS 4120/1) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)

    (20 ILCS 4120/5) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 5. Definitions. As used in this Act: 
    "Indian" means a person descended from any of the countries of the subcontinent that are not primarily Muslim in character, including India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. 
    "Council" means the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council created by this Act. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/10) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 10. Illinois Indian American Advisory Council. There is hereby created the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council. The purpose of the Council is to advise the Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; to advance the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; to enhance trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, to build relationships with and disseminate information to Indian American and immigrant communities across this State. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/15) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 15. Council members. 
    (a) The Council shall consist of 21 voting members. The Governor shall appoint one voting member, who shall act as the chairperson of the Council and serve as the representative of the Office of the Governor. The Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives shall each appoint 4 members of the public to the Council, who shall also serve as voting members.
    (b) Appointing authorities shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that the Council is diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, age, gender, and geography. 
    (c) Appointments to the Council shall be persons of recognized ability and experience in one or more of the following areas: higher education, business, international trade, law, social services, human services, immigration, refugee services, community development, or health care. 
    (d) Appointed members of the Council shall serve 2-year terms. A member shall serve until his or her successor shall be appointed. Members of the Council shall not be entitled to compensation for their services as members. 
    (e) The following officials shall serve as ex officio, nonvoting members of the Council: the Deputy Director of the Office of Trade and Investment within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, or his or her designee, and the Chief of the Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services within the Department of Human Services, or his or her designee. 
    The following State agencies shall also each appoint a liaison to serve as ex officio, nonvoting members of the Council: the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the Department of Human Services, the Department on Aging, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Central Management Services, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Illinois Community College Board. 
    (f) The Council may establish committees that address certain issues, including, but not limited to, communications, economic development, and legislative affairs. 
    (g) The Office of the Governor shall provide administrative and technical support to the Council, including a staff member to serve as ethics officer. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/20) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 20. Meetings. The Council shall meet at least once per each calendar quarter. In addition, the Council may hold up to 2 public hearings annually to assist in the development of policy recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. All meetings of the Council shall be conducted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. Eleven members of the Council shall constitute a quorum. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/25) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 25. Reports. 
    (a) The Council shall issue semi-annual reports on its policy recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly by June 30th and December 31st of each year. 
    (b) The reports on policy recommendations shall focus on, but are not limited to, the following: (i) policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; (ii) advancement of the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; (iii) enhancement of trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and (iv) building relationships with and disseminating information to, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, Indian American and immigrant communities across this State. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)

American Indians welcome Illinois lawmaker’s announcement to replace discriminatory provisions of law that defines Indians

A section of the controversial law, section 5, has the potential to discriminate against Muslims

Islamophobia
Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Indian Americans living in Illinois have been concerned about a law, passed earlier this year, that erroneously uses religion as a marker to define who Indians are, especially excluding those who are Muslim. Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam said that the state will change a law, passed earlier this year to set up an Indian American Advisory Council, that uses religion to define the Indian American community, thus creating the potential for anti-Muslim discrimination.

Section 5 of the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act’s (HB4070) erroneously describes ‘Indian’ as, “a person descended from any of the countries of the subcontinent that are not primarily Muslim in character, including India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.”

Among those who campaigned to get this section repealed were the Chicago Coalition for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy organisation dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos. After meeting several civil society groups, Senator Villivalam tweeted: “It has been brought to my attention that the Indian American Advisory Council law was drafted with language that is not inclusive to all Indian Americans who call Illinois home. I am committed to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and constituents to rectify this language. Just like we have done with hundreds of other laws and programs, we will ensure this law reflects the diversity and the welcoming nature of our state. I am proud of the work that has been done on behalf of and in collaboration with the Muslim American community.”

Among those who met Senator Villivalam included Asad Khan, veteran Chicago-based civil rights activist; Pushkar Sharma, Co-Founder, Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India (CCHRI); and Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director, IAMC. The activists met several other legislators too, who all committed to replacing the discriminatory law.

“India’s own constitution is secular and pluralistic and does not describe India as a primarily non-Muslim country, so it is disingenuous for Illinois state to create that false description,” Asad Khan said. Added IAMC’s Ahmed: “India is not primarily non-Muslim. Period. It belongs equally to people of all faiths that have lived in India for centuries.”

The activists told Senator Villlivalam and the other lawmakers that describing India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nepal as “primarily non-Muslim” countries was a clear and naked attempt to inject Hindu supremacism and Islamophobia in Illinois,” Ahmed said.

Added Sharma: “We welcome the fact that every legislator we spoke with understood that establishing a South Asian American Advisory Council based on geography, rather than using politically-charged, discriminatory language, was the way forward.”

The current law says the Council will, “advise the [Illinois] Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; to advance the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; to enhance trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, to build relationships with and disseminate information to Indian American and immigrant communities across this State.”

Sharma also tweeted to Senator Villivalam that India was not “a religion; it's a secular country. We must be defined by geography not faith.” Saying that India was home to over 200 million non-Hindu individuals, Sharma tweeted that describing Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka as “Indian-majority countries” was an “inaccurate [and] offensive designation,” and if this was “a South Asian American Council it must include all hailing from ALL South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives).”

The activists urged the lawmakers to pause any appointments to this Council until the law was altered. Illinois must consult extensively with the Indian community, including all faiths, caste, and language, to select the Council’s members, they said

A website of the Illinois Legislature has uploaded the controversial law:

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

(20 ILCS 4120/) Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act.
    (20 ILCS 4120/1) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council Act. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)

    (20 ILCS 4120/5) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 5. Definitions. As used in this Act: 
    "Indian" means a person descended from any of the countries of the subcontinent that are not primarily Muslim in character, including India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. 
    "Council" means the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council created by this Act. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/10) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 10. Illinois Indian American Advisory Council. There is hereby created the Illinois Indian American Advisory Council. The purpose of the Council is to advise the Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; to advance the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; to enhance trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, to build relationships with and disseminate information to Indian American and immigrant communities across this State. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/15) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 15. Council members. 
    (a) The Council shall consist of 21 voting members. The Governor shall appoint one voting member, who shall act as the chairperson of the Council and serve as the representative of the Office of the Governor. The Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives shall each appoint 4 members of the public to the Council, who shall also serve as voting members.
    (b) Appointing authorities shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that the Council is diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, age, gender, and geography. 
    (c) Appointments to the Council shall be persons of recognized ability and experience in one or more of the following areas: higher education, business, international trade, law, social services, human services, immigration, refugee services, community development, or health care. 
    (d) Appointed members of the Council shall serve 2-year terms. A member shall serve until his or her successor shall be appointed. Members of the Council shall not be entitled to compensation for their services as members. 
    (e) The following officials shall serve as ex officio, nonvoting members of the Council: the Deputy Director of the Office of Trade and Investment within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, or his or her designee, and the Chief of the Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services within the Department of Human Services, or his or her designee. 
    The following State agencies shall also each appoint a liaison to serve as ex officio, nonvoting members of the Council: the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the Department of Human Services, the Department on Aging, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Central Management Services, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Illinois Community College Board. 
    (f) The Council may establish committees that address certain issues, including, but not limited to, communications, economic development, and legislative affairs. 
    (g) The Office of the Governor shall provide administrative and technical support to the Council, including a staff member to serve as ethics officer. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/20) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 20. Meetings. The Council shall meet at least once per each calendar quarter. In addition, the Council may hold up to 2 public hearings annually to assist in the development of policy recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. All meetings of the Council shall be conducted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. Eleven members of the Council shall constitute a quorum. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)


    (20 ILCS 4120/25) 
    (This Section may contain text from a Public Act with a delayed effective date) 
    Sec. 25. Reports. 
    (a) The Council shall issue semi-annual reports on its policy recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly by June 30th and December 31st of each year. 
    (b) The reports on policy recommendations shall focus on, but are not limited to, the following: (i) policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants; (ii) advancement of the role and civic participation of Indian Americans in this State; (iii) enhancement of trade and cooperation between Indian-majority countries and this State; and (iv) building relationships with and disseminating information to, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, Indian American and immigrant communities across this State. 
(Source: P.A. 102-1058, eff. 1-1-23.)

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