Washington DC – Dozens of American Indians gathered in Lafayette Square, the park in front of the White House, to protest Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States.
Chanting slogans and waving placards stating “Save India from Fascism,” protesters on Thursday blasted Modi for human rights abuses, persecution of Muslims and other minorities, new agricultural laws and repression in Kashmir under Indian administration.
Since his election as Indian Prime Minister in 2014, Modi has been accused of presiding over an unprecedented religious polarization in his country, with several laws discriminating against minority groups, mainly its 200 million Muslims.
Modi is currently in the United States to attend the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad Summit, with President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The Quad Alliance of four countries aims to control China’s growing military and economic power on a global scale.
Modi will also address the UN General Assembly underway in New York on Saturday.
Later Friday, Biden will hold his first bilateral meeting with Modi after winning the presidential election. The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of topics, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“Bilateral talks between the United States and India will help strengthen and give momentum to the discussion on Quad, as many topics are very closely related,” a senior official in the Biden administration told reporters more early this week.
Ahead of the scheduled Biden-Modi meeting, protesters outside the White House called on the US president to keep his campaign pledge to make human rights a central part of US foreign policy.
Last year, during the presidential election campaign, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris strongly condemned the New Delhi crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, the implementation of a controversial citizen list in the state of ‘Assam and the passage of an “anti-Muslim” citizenship law that sparked nationwide protests and deadly riots in the capital.
Dozens of Muslim activists and students have been thrown in jail for protesting the 2019 citizenship law which the United Nations has called “fundamentally discriminatory” because it blocks the naturalization of Muslims.
Al Jazeera contacted the office of White House press secretary Jen Psaki to confirm whether human rights and religious freedom were on the agenda at the Biden-Modi meeting, but a spokesperson declined to comment.
Victor Begg, a 74-year-old community leader and activist, said he had come all the way from the state of Florida to record his protest against Biden’s meeting with the Hindu nationalist leader.
âWhat Modi represents is totally contrary to American values. By allowing him to enter the United States and hosting him in the White House, it also compromises our democracy, âBegg told Al Jazeera.
Activists spoke of the recent upsurge in attacks and killings of religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, by members of right-wing Hindu groups in various parts of India.
âRight now, we are witnessing a slow genocide of minorities. The lives of India’s 200 million Muslims are at stake and the Biden administration can no longer afford to remain silent. This meeting is the right time to send a strong message to India, âSyed Ali, chairman of a rights group, the Indian American Muslim Council, told Al Jazeera.
Ali also expressed his “extreme displeasure” at a meeting between a senior American diplomat and Mohan Bhagwat, the head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Organization of Volunteers or RSS), the far-right ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ) by Modi.
On September 8, Atul Keshap, the Acting United States Ambassador to India, visited Bhagwat in New Delhi. âGood discussion with Shri Mohan Bhagwat on how India’s tradition of diversity, democracy, inclusion and pluralism can ensure the vitality and strength of a truly great nation,â Keshap tweeted.
Good discussion with @RSSorg Shri Mohan Bhagwat explains how India’s tradition of diversity, democracy, inclusiveness and pluralism can ensure the vitality and strength of a truly great nation. pic.twitter.com/FB5gizzFuI
– United States Ambassador to India (@USambIndia) September 8, 2021
Contacted by Al Jazeera, the US State Department declined to give details of “private diplomatic conversations” between Keshap and Bhagwat.
âUS officials meet with a wide range of political, business, religious and civil society leaders in India and around the world. We cannot comment on the details of private diplomatic conversations, âState Department press secretary Nicole Thompson said in an email response to Al Jazeera.
Farhana Kara Motala, an activist for Justice For All, a Chicago-based advocacy group, expressed serious concerns about “the ongoing state crackdown” in Indian-administered Kashmir and urged the Biden administration to defend the rights of the Kashmiris.
âThe United States cannot remain a silent spectator as India continues to violate all rights of Kashmiris,â Motala told Al Jazeera.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed by India and Pakistan, which govern parts of it. Indian-administered Kashmir is the only predominantly Muslim region in the country, where an armed rebellion began in the 1990s to either merge with Pakistan or create an independent country.
Shortly after Modi’s re-election in 2019, his government removed the contested region’s constitutionally guaranteed special status and turned it into federal territory.
The move was followed by an unprecedented crackdown by Indian forces, which saw hundreds of politicians, activists, separatists and youth thrown in jail and a months-long security lockdown and power outage. communication in the region.
As the former chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, Modi was banned from traveling to the United States for a decade after more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 in this that critics call a pogrom.
Al Jazeera contacted four spokespersons for the BJP and the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, but they declined to comment or did not respond to questions about Thursday’s protest.
Arjun Sethi, community activist and assistant professor of law at Georgetown University, said India, under Modi’s reign, became the largest authoritative government in the world, suppressing dissent and criticism from its policies.
Sethi spoke of the cases of police brutality inflicted on Indian farmers, who have been protesting for nearly 10 months on the highways leading to New Delhi, demanding the repeal of three new “anti-farm” farm laws passed by the Modi government in September. Last year. .
âThey (the farmers) organized themselves peacefully to fight for their rights and food security in India, and in return they faced repression and violence,â Sethi told Al Jazeera.
âWe are here because we defend the rights of minorities, Dalits, women, farmers, human rights defenders and journalists in India.
Dalits, who sit at the bottom of the complex caste hierarchy in India, have been persecuted and marginalized by âupper casteâ Hindus for centuries.
Linda Cheriyan, 25, a Black Lives Matter of Greater New York activist who took part in Thursday’s protest, said it was high time Biden kept his campaign promises to promote democracy and human rights. man in the world, especially in India.
âFascist regimes cannot be America’s strategic partners,â Cheriyan told Al Jazeera.