Modi’s US Visit: Protests Raise Concerns Over Human Right Violations, ‘Assault’ on Democratic Values in India
Notable progressive voices, like Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar boycotted Modi’s address to the US Congress. | Image: Twitter
New Delhi: The much-publicised visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States has been accompanied by protests and demonstrations expressing concerns about human rights issues under his administration. On Wednesday, trucks bearing banners and digital posters were seen in the streets of New York, urging President Biden to question Prime Minister Modi regarding alleged human rights violations in India, according to reports.
The banners highlighted issues such as mob lynching of Muslims, Christians, and dalits, lack of accountability, prolonged detention without trial of student activist Umar Khalid, and the ban on Modi's entry into the US from 2005 to 2014 – following his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots.
Activists, more than 70 lawmakers, and human rights experts have called upon US President Joe Biden to address these concerns directly with Modi during their meetings.
Notable progressive voices, like Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar boycotted Modi’s address to the US Congress.
“A joint address is among the most prestigious invitations and honours the United States Congress can extend. We should not do so for individuals with deeply troubling human rights records – particularly for individuals whom our own State Department has concluded are engaged in systematic human rights abuses of religious minorities and caste-oppressed communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
In Washington, D.C., hundreds of Indian Americans and supporters from various religious backgrounds gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza to stage a demonstration against Modi's “assault on democratic values” and ongoing human rights violations in India. The protest, organised by the Coalition for Reclaiming Indian Democracy, aimed to raise awareness about the deteriorating state of democracy, the persecution of religious minorities, and the crackdown on the press and civil society in India.
During the protest, activists and victims of human rights abuses under the Modi regime addressed the gathering. Dr Aakashi Bhatt, daughter of imprisoned whistleblower and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, emphasised the “alarming erosion of democracy”.
She was quoted as saying, “My father sacrificed 21 years of his life to relentlessly fight for the thousands who are incarcerated and victimised by [the Modi] regime. As a society, we cannot let the sacrifices of our heroes go to waste. We need to raise a unified voice against Modi.”
Sunita Vishwanath, Executive Director of the advocacy group Hindus for Human Rights, reportedly said at the protest: “As a progressive Hindu American… it is my ethical, political, and religious duty to stand up against the age-old atrocity of caste and the hatred and violence of Hindu nationalism, the evil twin ideologies that fuel Modi and the BJP as they steer India on a very dark path towards becoming a Hindu supremacist theocracy.”
“Shame on the Biden administration for claiming to care about democracy and human rights, but shamelessly rolling out the red carpet for the Hindu supremacist leader who is dividing India along fault lines of hate,” she added.
Ahead of Modi's meeting with President Biden at the White House, a coalition of Indian American organisations held a press conference in Washington, highlighting the ongoing crackdown on minorities in India. Nadine Maenza, a fellow at the Wilson Center and former chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), stressed the importance of including human rights and religious freedom concerns in the conversation between Washington and India.
"We just can't look away and neither can the US government and neither can the international community,” asserted Maenza.
Earlier, on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch also hosted a screening of the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots, which “examines Mr Modi's leadership during the Gujarat riots”. The documentary had sparked outrage and was removed from "select platforms" in India. Back in January, describing India banning the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a matter of press freedom, the US State Department had said that it is “high time to highlight the importance of democratic principles like freedom of expression and make it a point around the world as well as in India”.
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