Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2023) – At a Press Conference hosted today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., victims of Indian government persecution and human rights experts called on the Biden administration to hold Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for his association with violent Hindu extremist ideologues and his regime’s attacks on Indian democracy.
The Press Conference, titled “Beyond the Hype: Highlighting Prime Minister Modi’s Authoritarianism and Human Rights Violations,” was organized by the Coalition for Reclaiming Indian Democracy, a group of civil rights and interfaith organizations representing Indian-American Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Dalits and allies.
“The U.S. government can’t just look away, and neither can the international community. At some point, these conditions [in India] will impact economics and security as well, especially since conditions are deteriorating,” said Nadine Maenza, President of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Secretariat and former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
“President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have both promised that human rights would be the center of the administration’s foreign policy,” she added. “This is an opportunity for President Biden to show leadership by speaking directly to Prime Minister Modi about the seriousness of the situation and how he is compelled by law to designate India as a Country of Particular Concern.”
Lien Gangte, senior Leader of the North American Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA), spoke about recent ethnic violence in India’s Manipur state, recounting how his family was among the thousands of victims of mob violence against the state’s minority Kuki tribe.
“Prime Minister Modi Narendra Modi has been deafeningly silent,” he said. “Are we to be forgotten? Will we be one of the forgotten casualties in the integrationist majoritarian drive that has encircled us? We demand that the Prime Minister break his silence and visit the state as a first step in bringing some form of normalcy to this ongoing crisis.”
Niranjan Takle, a senior Indian journalist, spoke of how he had been physically attacked, threatened, and fired from his job after doing an investigative report on the murder of an Indian judge.
“There is a lot of bureaucratic and political interference that is happening with the judiciary in the Supreme Court… Journalists are getting attacked and jailed,” he said. “That’s the situation that we have to fight.”
“Absolute nationalism saturates the lives of millions of Muslims in Kashmir, and in India, and their allies with everyday and exceptional violence. Those who protest this violence and devastation are eviscerated, brutalized by state institutions, officials and Hindu nationalist militias,” said Dr. Angana Chatterji, Co-chair of the Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the Center for Race and Gender at University of California, Berkeley.
“The United States should not bargain away human rights for political expediency,” she added. “The Modi government will not last forever, but his legacy will damage and may even break Indian democracy and render vulnerable the rule of law globally.”
Pointing out that India is one of many countries around the world witnessing a rise in fascism, Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder and chairman of the watchdog group Genocide Watch, said, “Inviting Modi to speak to our Congress to have a state dinner at the White House is like inviting Benito Mussolini to have a state dinner at our White House to speak to our Congress.”
“Many call India a prime example of digital authoritarianism, because while the Internet is ostensibly free, it is only free at the discretion of the Indian government,” said Arjun Singh Sethi, activist and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and Vanderbilt University Law School. “U.S. technology companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google and the like, have become handmaidens to authoritarianism.”
He added, “If they can [censor] the British Broadcasting Corporation, just imagine what they are doing to human rights defenders and activists in India today.”
“The [Indian] Supreme Court has been unwilling to make judgments that go against the BJP and Hindu majoritarian sentiments,” said Dr. Malini Ranganathan, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. “And worse still, it has been willing to bend laws or otherwise unwilling to conduct reviews on particular laws that suit the reigning regime.”
“The choice is simple,” said Zaki Barzinji, Senior Director of Empowered Communities at Aspen Digital and co-founder of the DC-based policy organization Americans for Kashmir. “Either the White House and Congress can give a big shining green light to Prime Minister Modi’s full scale assault on democracy, or [they] can start a new conversation altogether, with human rights, religious pluralism, and freedom at the center of any discussion about the future of our relationship with India.”
“India is closer than ever to outright genocide, and if we stay [silent], this week will be the ultimate validation Prime Minister Modi seeks, and we will pass the point of no return,” he added. “This is the last chance we have as Americans to publicly hold Prime Minister Modi accountable for his government’s inaction as his toxic brand of hate spreads death and marginalization in Kashmir and across India.”
Raqib Hameed Naik, a renowned Kashmiri journalist, and expert on Hindu nationalism, recounted how he had been forced to relocate to the US due to the Modi government’s repression of Kashmiri journalists.
“Today, Kashmiri journalists find themselves in this web of censorship, where our words are used as weapons, or treated as weapons solely because we shed light on the reality that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to hide and conceal,” he said.
Naik also highlighted the cases of incarcerated Kashmiri journalists Irfan Meraj and Fahad Shah.
Ria Chakrabarty, Policy Director of Hindus for Human Rights, said, “the [Modi government’s] harassment has extended to critics living outside of India, including to American residents and American citizens, and is designed to silence critics of the Indian government.”