Hundreds of Indian Americans and their allies gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. on 22 June to stage a demonstration against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assault on democratic values and ongoing human rights violations.
The protest, attended by many, coincided with Modi’s address to a joint session of Congress and a state dinner at The White House.
The protest was organized by the Coalition for Reclaiming Indian Democracy, a collective of civil rights and interfaith organizations.
“Democracy as we know it has ceased to exist in India,” said Dr. Aakashi Bhatt, daughter of jailed whistleblower Sanjiv Bhatt.
“My father sacrificed twenty-one years of his life to relentlessly fight for the thousands who are incarcerated and victimized by [the Modi] regime,” Bhatt said.
“As a society, we cannot let the sacrifices of our heroes go to waste. We need to raise a unified voice against Modi.”
“Journalists are getting attacked and jailed in India… [but] I also firmly believe that hatred has an expiry date,” said Niranjan Takle, a senior Indian journalist. “I will continue to stand up for democracy and secularism in India, and I call on leaders in the United States to join me.”
Lien Gangte, senior Leader of the North American Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA), spoke about recent ethnic violence in India’s Manipur state.
“Prime Minister Modi Narendra Modi has been silent… This is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple,” he said. “We call on every concerned individual to exercise their democratic rights by urging their elected representatives in the US [to] provide humanitarian aid and security.”
“India is not the world’s largest democracy. India is the world’s largest authoritarian regime,” said Arjun Sethi, a human rights lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “A democracy doesn’t terrorize minority communities [or] wage war on the press… Modi was banned from this country for more than ten years. He should be banned again. He has no business being on US soil.”
“It is unacceptable that the Biden administration gives Modi this platform to act like a democratic leader, because in doing so, Biden is complicit in whitewashing the blood on Modi’s hands,” Husnaa Vhora, Advocacy Associate with the Indian American Muslim Council. “Even worse, he’s actively celebrating a man who has stayed silent while his supporters… called for minorities to be eradicated from India.”
“As a progressive Hindu American… it is my ethical, political, and religious duty to stand up against the age-old atrocity of caste and the hatred and violence of Hindu nationalism, the evil twin ideologies that fuel Modi and the BJP as they steer India on a very dark path towards becoming a Hindu supremacist theocracy,” said Sunita Vishwanath, Executive Director of the advocacy group Hindus for Human Rights.
She added, “Shame on the Biden administration for claiming to care about democracy and human rights, but shamelessly rolling out the red carpet for the Hindu supremacist leader who is dividing India along fault lines of hate.”
“President Biden, do not underestimate the vicious power of Prime Minister Modi… who is hand in glove with violence,” said Reverend Sarah Anderson, pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. “Stop killing of pastors and their congregations. Stop burning churches in Manipur. Stop the ethnic cleansing of minorities in India.”
“A Holocaust is happening right now in the world’s largest democracy, and the United States has chosen to honor its leader,” said Roja Singh, President of Dalit Solidarity Forum.
“We ask that President Biden declare that the United States does not support the violence-based policies enacted by the Modi government,” she added.