June 14, 2001
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US lawmakers say: We are Hindus

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

Several influential lawmakers on Wednesday wore yellow badges with the inscription, 'I am a Hindu', in solidarity with the minorities in Afghanistan, as the United States House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning the Taleban's anti-Hindu edict requiring them to wear a yellow badge as a mark of identity.

The bipartisan 'Sense of the Congress' non-binding resolution, originally authored by New York Democrat Eliot L Engel, was approved by a vote of 420-0.

The lawmakers slammed the Taleban for its decree and said the despicable order was analogous to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, who were forced to wear a yellow Star of David as a mark of identity.

They called upon the Taleban to revoke the order immediately and abide by civil and human rights standards laid out in the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights and other international accords regarding the protection of religious minorities.

Tom Lantos, California Democrat and a Holocaust survivor, who is a member of the powerful House International Relations Committee, said: "We cannot allow the Taleban to systematically repress its Hindus in such an eerily similar manner."

The lawmakers ridiculed the Taleban's defence of the decree that the yellow badges were for the protection of the approximately 1,700 Hindus in Afghanistan from the strict religious conduct required of the Muslim majority.

Besides Lantos, leading the verbal assault on the Taleban was New York Democrat Gary Ackerman.

Ackerman, the brain behind the yellow badges worn by lawmakers in the House, said this in some small way would show the tiny Hindu community in Afghanistan that Congress was aware of the human rights violations being perpetrated on them by the Taleban.

Ackerman said he hoped that on the day the Taleban edict comes into force, all members of Congress would wear the yellow badges all over again. "On that particular day, we will all become Hindus, so that the minority Hindus in Afghanistan will have a source of strength," he said.

Earlier, Lantos said he would aggressively pursue Washington's concern over Pakistan's support to the Taleban when Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar visits the US capital next week for a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

He said he would urge Sattar to make sure that the Pakistani government puts pressure on the Taleban to withdraw the edict.

Taking part in the debate, Engel said: "I cannot express in words my utter shock at this act. This resurfacing of tactics used against Jews in Nazi Germany reminds all of us that we must remain vigilant when it comes to defending human rights."

He said he was particularly concerned "because this is not the first time the Taleban has singled out Afghan Hindus. Prior to 1992, Afghanistan had a population of over 50,000 Hindus. Most fled due to anti-Hindu violence. There are now approximately 500 Hindus left in Afghanistan."

Another founding member of the India caucus, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, also slammed the Taleban edict and said: "Contrary to the Taleban's claims, such action is a sign of religious intolerance and marks a dangerous trend for the minorities living in Afghanistan."

Several lawmakers also castigated the Taleban for their destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan despite widespread international condemnation.

Taleban denies reports of restrictions on Hindus
India deplores Taleban decree against Hindus
Taleban's edict received with shock in New York
Canadian Muslims condemn Taleban decree
US condemns Taleban's order for Hindus
Bush urged to take on Taleban
Canada decries Taleban edict
UN joins chorus of protests against Taleban edict
Canadian MPs step up campaign against Taleban

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