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Not in our name: Against Oxford India Society’s enlisting as ‘welcome partner’ for PM Narendra Modi’s Wembley event

 Independent Cartoon- modi UK VISIT

The Oxford India Society (OIS) is one of the many organizations that are ‘welcome partners’ for the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi’s talk at the Wembley Stadium, London. As members of the India community at Oxford, whom the OIS claims to represent, we do not share this enthusiasm for the Modi Government and therefore write this letter to express our dissent with the OIS in welcoming Mr.Modi.We are outraged at the dangers that stare at the most basic freedoms necessary for the existence of a democracy in India. Unless these issues are resolved, welcoming him, or expressing enthusiasm about his visit amounts to tacitly supporting and making invisible these grave violations. The political career of Mr.Modi as well as the ideology of his party has been divisive. Over a decade after the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, authorities in India at the national and the state level are subverting justice, protecting perpetrators and intimidating activists and witnesses. India under Mr. Modi has witnessed a rise in cases of communal violence. Mr. Modi has chosen, in this climate, a stance of aloofness, even as organizations that have consistently formed his support base perpetrate this violence. We mention here in particular the recent brutal lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Bishara village, Dadri, for the suspicion of having consumed beef where most of the accused were linked with the BJP. Mr.Modi rarely speaks of the violations of the rights of minorities in India and when he does he chooses words like ‘tragic incident’ or ‘regrettable’. The choice of these weak words is followed by an equally weak administrative will to deliver justice.

Also under attack are other marginalized groups. By aggressively pursuing the twin policies of anti-conversion and gharwapasi (reconversion to Hinduism), oppressed caste groups are prevented from challenging a cycle of inequality and oppression. TheBJP’s response to attacks on Dalits has been insensitive, a Union Minister compared caste violence resulting in the murder of two Dalit children to “throwing stones on dogs”.Leaders from the BJP’s ideological mentors, the RSS, have also sought the dismantling of existing affirmative action policies for Dalits and Other Backward Classes. Among Mr. Modi’s earliest policy initiatives was a move to dilute protections for India’s numerous small and marginal farmers against land grabs by industrialists: although concerted action by farmers’ groups forced the government to back down, the threat of state-sanctioned land grabs against farmers remains.

It must also be noted that Mr Modi’s coming to power has been accompanied by an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian culture. Institutions as well as individuals are feeling the heat. The autonomy of academic institutions such as the Film and Television Institute of India, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and the Indian Council for Historical Research is under threat. Writers and rationalists like the Kannada writer M. M. Kalburgi have been murdered and several others threatened. Contrary to what the ‘Digital India’ campaign might claim, the Modi government has actively restricted citizens’ access to the internet, with recent bans on mobile internet services in Gujarat and Kashmir. Online harassment of dissenters, activists and eminent journalists is also on the risk as the space for critique and dissent shrinks under this regime. The government has also attacked NGOs working on peace, environmental justice, human rights and poverty.

There have been several protests most recently by a very large numbers of writers, filmmakers and academics, who have returned the awards conferred by the government and expressed their alarm. There are also various groups that are protesting his visit in the UK. We stand with them to say that we are far from enthusiastic to welcome the Indian Prime Minister to Britain. As current and former members of the University of Oxford, we — the undersigned — condemn the Society’s move to participate in welcoming a figure whose party and government threatens basic freedoms. We would instead like to use this opportunity to place on record our discomfort with the divisive and undemocratic agenda that the current Indian government has pursued.

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