Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrived in the US on June 21 for a four-day state visit, during which he met with President Joe Biden, addressed a joint session of Congress, and signed several agreements on cooperation in various fields. However, his visit also sparked protests and condemnation from various factions, lawmakers, and human rights groups over his government’s record of human rights violations in India.
Modi’s government has been accused of cracking down on dissent, targeting religious minorities, especially Muslims, undermining democracy, and enabling Hindu nationalist violence. In August 2019, his government revoked the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that has been disputed by India and Pakistan for decades, and imposed a harsh security lockdown that continues to restrict basic rights and freedoms of the people.
According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of people remain detained without charge in Jammu and Kashmir under a draconian law that permits detention without trial for up to two years. The government has also clamped down on critics, journalists, and human rights activists in the region, and announced a new media policy that empowers the authorities to decide what is “fake news” and take punitive action against media outlets and journalists.
The government has also failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks, often led by BJP supporters, on religious minorities and other vulnerable communities. In the northeast state of Assam, a citizenship verification project excluded nearly two million people, mostly of Bengali ethnicity, many of them Muslim, putting them at risk of statelessness.
Several US lawmakers have expressed their concern over Modi’s human rights record and boycotted his address to Congress on Thursday. Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and Kweisi Mfume issued a joint statement saying that Modi has a “notorious and extensive record of human rights abuses” and that it was “shameful to honor these abuses by allowing Modi to address a joint session of Congress.”
The Center on Islamic Relations (Cair), the US’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, also welcomed the boycott and urged others to join. Cair’s research and advocacy director Corey Saylor said: “Leaders do the right thing in the face of pressure to comply with bad ethics. Boycotting any event honoring Prime Minister Modi centers our value of religious freedom over cynical politics.”
Modi has not directly addressed the human rights allegations during his visit. He has focused on highlighting India’s economic growth, its commitment to responsible and sustainable development, its partnership with the US on various issues such as climate change, counter-terrorism, trade, and defense. He has also praised the cultural ties between the two countries and the contributions of Indian-Americans.
Modi is scheduled to leave the US on June 24 after attending a state dinner hosted by President Biden at the White House.