US Non-Profit Urges Biden to Denounce 'Rights Abuse' During Modi Visit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves while leaving for his visit to USA, in New Delhi, Tuesday, June 20. 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for an official five-day visit to the US on Tuesday, the America-based non-profit advocacy group, Hindus for Human Rights (HRH), has urged President Joe Biden to “engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights”.
In a letter signed by 58 organisations and more than 200 individuals and addressed to Biden, HRH urged him to “publicly call on the Indian government to honour its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his Cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics”.
HRH supports pluralism and human rights in South Asia and North America and focuses on providing a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva, racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
Regarding the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, HRH criticised Biden for inviting Modi. “Mr Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine indigenous rights in the state”.
HRH is one of the sponsors of a rally against Prime Minister Modi at the United Nations on Wednesday.
Mentioning “three successive attacks on Indian democracy” the week before the Summit for Democracy, the letter read: “First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the Internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights of Sikhs to peacefully organise and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism.”
While no one from the Biden administration “said anything about even one of these developments, “you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy” after “Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March”.
The Biden administration has only had private two-way conversations” about the USA and India can always improve when “confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India”, the group wrote.
“Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defence of American democracy and the rule of law.”
The Coalition for Reclaiming Indian Democracy, a coalition of civil rights and interfaith organisations representing Indian-American Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Dalits and allies, will hold two press conferences in Washington DC on Thursday against Biden’s decision to invite Modi and human rights violations in India.
In the first presser, the coalition would strongly oppose the decision of Biden and Congressional leaders to “platform” Modi for a “state dinner and addressing a joint session of Congress”.
The second press conference, titled ‘Beyond the Hype: Highlighting Prime Minister Modi’s Authoritarianism and Human Rights Violations’, will also oppose the decision to invite Modi for a state dinner and addressing a joint session of Congress and highlight human rights abuses in India.
Reclaiming Democracy in India, which highlights the persecution of religious minorities, will organise a fundraiser in New York City on Wednesday about India “moving steadily towards autocracy”.
Alleging that India is one of the “fastest autocratising nations in the world”, the letter read: “Freedom House has rated India as a ‘partly free’ country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media; and the targeting of political opponents.”
Freedom House also rated Kashmir as “not free” citing violations of human, civil and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status”, HRH wrote.
Pointing to the 2023 Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, HRH wrote: “India has dropped to 161st out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index–which examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders–every year for the past 15 years, and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide.”
According to the 2022 PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, “India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterises India as an electoral autocracy and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi”.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has said that “India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi”, HRH further wrote.
“As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under US law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961,” the letter read.
“Given the magnitude of this crisis”, HRH urged the American President to “engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis”.
“We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity.”
HRH asked Biden to publicly denounce the “rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponisation of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism”.
Even if Biden is not “willing to personally criticise” Modi, he has “ample opportunity to criticise the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people”, HRH wrote.
Reminding Biden of his unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism, HRH wrote: “Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.”
Council on American-Islamic Relations, Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations, Indian American Muslim Council, International Commission for Dalit Rights, Sikh Coalition and South Asian American Coalition to Renew Democracy are some of the organisations which signed the letter.
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