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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

US rights groups gear up for protests against Modi’s visit to Washington

Under Modi's rule, India has slid from 140th in the World Press Freedom Index to 161st this year, its lowest ever, while also topping the list for the highest number of internet shutdowns globally for five consecutive years.

US rights groups have planned protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington over India’s deteriorating human rights record.

According to the details, the Indian American Muslim Council, Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, and Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition plan to gather near the White House on June 22 when Modi is due to meet President Joe Biden.

The groups, which also include Indian Muslims, Kashmiris and Sikhs, will carry flyers having slogans “Modi Not Welcome” and “Save India from Hindu Supremacy.” Another event is planned in New York featuring a show titled “Howdy Democracy,” a play on the name of the 2019 “Howdy Modi!” rally in Texas featuring the Indian prime minister and then-US President Donald Trump.

Read more: The case of India’s human rights violations

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also invited policymakers, journalists and analysts next week to a screening in Washington of a BBC documentary on Modi that questioned his leadership during the deadly 2002 Gujarat riots.

India’s human rights violations

Since Modi took over as Prime Minister of India in 2014, India has witnessed an alarming rise in human rights abuses under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Under Modi’s rule, India has slid from 140th in the World Press Freedom Index to 161st this year, its lowest ever, while also topping the list for the highest number of internet shutdowns globally for five consecutive years.

Religious tensions in India have heightened since Modi’s BJP came to power, with Indian Muslims becoming the target of anti-muslim violence. Properties owned by Muslims have been demolished, police have flogged Muslim men in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms was also imposed in Karnataka when BJP was in power in that state.

In Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the gross human rights violations dramatically increased after the Indian government relocated the special status of Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Sikh community, countering Hindutva, continues its struggle for identity and economic sovereignty with the Khalistan Movement.

The blatant human rights violations by India has raised international concern. Even US – which shares close economic ties with India – took note of the rise in human rights abuses. In March, the US released its annual report on human rights practices, listing “significant human rights issues” and abuses in India, including reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents, and journalists.

Read more: India’s mounting human rights violations and the US response

Amid this backdrop, US rights groups have decided to hold protests against Modi’s visit to Washington. Since Washington hopes for closer ties with India to counter China, rights advocates worry that geopolitics will overshadow human rights issues.

Human Rights Watch has also written to US President Joe Biden, urging him and other Congressional leaders to raise concerns about India’s rights situation with Prime Minister Modi directly during his visit.

Campaigning for rights

The South Asian diaspora in the US has been very active in raising awareness regarding human rights violations. As Indian-Americans gear up to protest PM Modi’s visit to the US, Pakistani-Americans have also been consistently holding protests against the human rights violations by the Pakistani government back home.

Hundreds of Overseas Pakistanis gathered outside the White House, expressing their determination to continue struggling for democracy in Pakistan. More than 2,000 Pakistani Americans even wrote to their members of Congress to push the Secretary of State to hold the government of Pakistan accountable for democracy and human rights.

As a result, 66 members of the US Congress wrote to Secretary of State Blinken, asking him to exert pressure on the Pakistani government to address the country’s continually worsening human rights violations.

Read more: In letter to Trudeau, Canadian MPs call out Pakistan’s human rights violations

The political awakening of Overseas Pakistanis and Indians against human rights violations and undemocratic practices in Pakistan and India marks a significant turning point. As diaspora communities become more politically aware and actively engaged, their collective voice grows louder, reaching a global audience.