US Senator Kamala Harris has made history by not just being the first black person and the first person of Indian descent to become vice president, but the first woman ever to hold the coveted post.
In one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections in America’s history, Democrat Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to be the 46th President of the United States. The celebrations were conspicuous across America with people flooding the streets in many cities to celebrate Biden’s dramatic win, and to mark Mr. Trump’s defeat.
After her win, Kamala Harris paid her tributes to the women who paved the way for her historic win and “all the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century.”
Ms. Harris spoke of her mother, Chennai-born Shyamala Gopalan Harris, during the address saying, “She maybe didn’t imagine quite this moment. But she believed so deeply in America where a moment like this is possible, and so I am thinking about her and about the generations of women, Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women — who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment — women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all.”
Her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris who has participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s has been vocal about human rights issues globally. Kamala Harris inherits the qualities of outspokenness, the enthusiasm to fight for a better world, where everybody has equal rights, from her mother.
When it comes to her ancestral country India, she has batted for good relations between India and the US, but she has expressed concern at the way the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been handling the human rights situation in Kashmir.
Ms. Harris has been very critical of the situation in Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370 last year, which stripped the erstwhile state of its special status. Indicating strong support for the people of Kashmir, Ms. Harris said in October 2019,
“We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”
Her reactions followed after reports of widespread human rights violations in Kashmir surfaced in the global media, including the stringent restrictions imposed, the curfews, and a communication blackout in the valley after the revocation of Article 370.
She, along with her fellow Indian-origin Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, has been vocal in calling out India’s actions in Kashmir. Jayapal too was strongly against the abrogation of Article 370 and introduced a Congressional resolution on Kashmir demanding that India remove all restrictions on communications in the state.
Ms. Harris lashed out at the Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar for refusing to attend a meeting in the US where Jayapal was participating. In a tweet, she said – “It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill.”
It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill. I stand with @RepJayapal, and I'm glad her colleagues in the House did too. https://t.co/PpbDoB0zKB
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) December 20, 2019
The President-elect Joe Biden too has been critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), introduced by the Indian government, with the potential to strip millions of Indian Muslims of their citizenship.
Her uncompromising position on the issues has won Harris remarkable support from Indian-American Muslims and Sikhs. However, her steadfast criticism of the Modi government has ruffled feathers in India and rattled Delhi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
While some may argue that leaders often change their position after being elected, and some promises are simply difficult to make while one’s in power, that most probably won’t be the case with Kamala Harris. She has been a strong advocate of human rights all through her life.
Speaking to the newspaper, The Hindu, her uncle G. Balachandran, who is also a policy commentator, said Ms. Harris will speak out ‘on issues that are important to her.’
“Ms. Harris was raised by her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and she may choose to speak out on human rights-related issues in India,”
Pointing out that she will not keep quiet if she finds something wrong happening, Balachandran said, “You may not want her to say that but she will say, “I am sorry but I will have to say this.”
Ms. Harris, along with her partner and President-elect Biden, has been always maintaining that the civil and political rights in Kashmir should be restored and respected. When asked about the issue, Ms. Harris had said last year, “We are all watching”.
Following their victory, the political parties in Kashmir expressed hope that the new democratic leadership will take a stand against the scrapping of Article 370, which the regional parties have been vehemently opposing in the valley.
The former Chief J&K Minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti took to Twitter to congratulate Harris and Biden on their spectacular victory, saying
“Their win gives hope to rest of the world that right-wing extremism & those who sow division & hatred will sooner or later be relegated to the pages of history like Donald Trump.”
Congratulations to President-elect @JoeBiden & Vice President-elect @KamalaHarris. Their win gives hope to rest of the world that right wing extremism & those who sow division & hatred will sooner or later be relegated to the pages of history like Donald Trump.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) November 7, 2020
Omar Abdullah, the National Conference vice president, took a jibe at the BJP by alluding to the Bihar exit poll results, which projected a win for the opposition alliance.
His tweet on the issue read, “To lose Bihar and the White House within days of each other would make for a pretty bad few days.”
To lose Bihar & the White House within days of each other would make for a pretty bad few days.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) November 7, 2020
The Biden-Kamala election victory was welcomed by all the political parties in Kashmir, who hoped the duo would take a “principled stance” on Kashmir and won’t “tolerate what the Trump administration tolerated on Kashmir”.
Biden’s campaign website also mentions the issue of CAA, which has come under severe criticism in India and around the world. In the paper titled ‘Joe Biden’s agenda for Muslim American community’, the President-elect had urged India to take “all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir”.
“Joe Biden has been disappointed by the measures that the government of India has taken with the implementation and aftermath of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act into law. These measures are inconsistent with the country’s long tradition of secularism and with sustaining a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy,” the paper read.
Experts observe that there are indeed strong signs that the new US administration at the helm may not sidestep the issues that the democratic leaders have held close to heart, including urging India to relax restrictions in Kashmir and the declining religious freedom in the South Asian country in the last six years.
The new Biden administration might not turn a blind eye to the Indian government’s soft stance on extremist groups, which has resulted in continuous minority rights violations in the country.
In April this year, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report.
The report observed, “The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.”
The Commission in its report said that the CPC designation was also recommended because “national and various state governments also allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them.”