Three Congresspersons, USCIRF Commissioner Hold Policy Briefing on India; Sound Alarm on Human Rights Situation
Washington, D.C. (June 23, 2023) – Three US Congresspersons and a USCIRF commissioner joined human rights experts and leaders of Indian-American advocacy groups in organizing a policy briefing to shed light on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authoritarian rule and human rights abuses.
The event took place on Thursday, coinciding with Prime Minister Modi’s address at the joint meeting of Congress. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) gathered at the Capitol visitors center to urge President Biden to prioritize human rights in US foreign policy toward India.
“Dissidents, journalists, and their families are targeted with violence and political persecution,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, who hosted the briefing. “Even advocates outside of India fear that their family members will be targeted if they speak out.”
“We are told we must now turn a blind eye to the repression because of foreign policy concerns, even though human rights are supposed to be at the center of our foreign policy,” she added. “But Prime Minister Modi is not even a reliable geopolitical ally.”
“It’s because we value our friendship with the Indian people that we have to speak the truth about human rights abuses in India,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“We hear regularly from representatives of ethnic and religious minorities in India who believe deeply in India’s secular constitution, but fear that their rights are being systematically undermined,” he added. “I’m talking about the Muslim population, but also about Sikhs, Christians and Dalits… We call on the Indian authorities to take steps to reverse these well documented and unfortunate trends and restore the full promise of the Indian constitution.”
“The first person to bring this discussion to me was actually a Hindu,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib. “It was an incredible, incredible discussion… We wish that people could see all of us coming together in this way. You all are continuing doing that by being here.”
Stephen F. Schneck, Commissioner at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) detailed the ongoing egregious violations of human rights and religious freedoms. He reiterated the commission’s recommendation to designate India as a Country of Particular concern (CPC).
Also speaking at the event was Ajit Sahi, Advocacy Director of Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
“I am a Hindu myself, and I can tell you one of the biggest changes that I see now is that the poison of hatred among the Hindus has gone very deep,” he said, speaking on the Hindu nationalist ideology pushed by the Modi regime. “This is not some random autocrat you are dealing with. You are dealing with a very organized movement whose founders wrote extensively in support of Hitler.”
He added, “We need to understand they are not just a threat to India. They’re not just a threat to Muslims; they’re not just a threat to Christians. They are a threat to world peace. If America is serious about its national security objectives and its geopolitics, then [Biden] has to take a stand and understand that you are jeopardizing peace, you are jeopardizing stability by supporting Prime Minister Modi.”
Other panelists included Sarah Yager, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch; Nadine Farid Johnson, Washington Director of PEN America; and Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director of Hindus for Human Rights.