U.S. Officials condemn Biden administration’s dangerous silence in face of Modi Regime’s persecution of minorities
Washington, D.C. (May 12, 2023) – U.S. officials gathered on capitol hill Tuesday to attend a congressional briefing on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi regime’s persecution of religious minorities. Talks also focused on the State Department’s refusal to implement the United States Commission on International Freedom’s (USCIRF) recommendation that India be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the commission’s highest warning against states which persecute religious minorities.
Co-organized by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Hindus For Human Rights (HFHR), Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), The New York State Council of Churches, the Commission for Dalit Rights, Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, along with a host of other religious, interfaith, and human rights organizations, the briefing featured speeches by former USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza, Indian human rights activist Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Former U.S. Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, and Reverend Bryan Nerren, an American Christian pastor imprisoned by the Indian government for seven months. IAMC, HFHR, and SALDEF representatives also spoke at the event.
In her summary remarks, former USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza directly attributed recent incidents of religious violence to the rhetoric, policies, and environment of complicity created by PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Right now, as we speak, an entire Indian state is burning,” Maenza said, referring to recent violent clashes between Hindus and Christians in the Indian state of Manipur, which have resulted in numerous Churches being burnt to the ground. “Due to the growing influence of the BJP’s Hindu supremacist rhetoric, Manipur’s Hindu population has turned against the already vulnerable Christian tribal population. It is quite literally the BJP’s fault that 60 people are now dead, 200 are wounded, and 35,000 are displaced.”
Maenza harshly criticized US officials who have lavished praise on the Modi administration, singling out Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Assistant Secretary of State Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu for complimenting Modi’s “visionary” leadership, and stating that India’s “free press really works” respectively.
Referring to Raimondo and Lu’s statements, Maenza asked, “Modi is no visionary, and under his control, freedoms for the Indian people have plummeted. How does this charade benefit anyone? Do we want to see the eruption of yet another refugee crisis? Are we alright with India compromising the entire region’s stability by allowing such widespread internal violence?” Maenza pointed to India’s precipitous decline in rank in Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index.
Dr. Sandeep Pandey, who is the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award, also known as Asia’s Nobel Prize, provided an exhaustive catalog of economic, political, civil rights, and democratic declines ushered in by the Modi regime.
Challenging triumphant western narratives of India’s economic gains, Pandey said, “The Indian economy is in shambles. India’s 1% population owns 40.5% of wealth. Whereas only 3% of wealth trickled down to bottom 50% of the population over the nine year period from 2012 to 21.” Pandey described how Modi’s crony capitalist policies had enabled the distorted wealth accumulation of Gautam Adani, the disgraced industrialist and financial criminal.
In matters of criminal justice, Pandey explained how religious bias has all but destroyed the Indian judiciary. “Your religion decides how the state will deal with you. If you are a Hindu, and especially if you are aligned with the ruling party, then irrespective of how egregious the crime is, you will be released. If you are a Muslim you will be convicted even if you are innocent. A death sentence is what they want,” he said.
Pandey pointed to the release of 11 Hindu supremacist men who had raped Bilkis Bano during the Gujarat Pogrom, to the later acquittal of convicted mass murderer and Hindu supremacist Babu Bajrangi. He contrasted this judicial leniency with the prison sentences given to Muslim activists who opposed the violently discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act.
Reverend Bryan Nerren then described in harrowing detail his personal experience being imprisoned in India. Having operated a Christian charity that helped poor children of all faiths for nearly 2 decades, Nerren was targeted by police and imprisoned.
“Most of you probably never had the opportunity to visit an Indian prison, much less be an Indian prisoner. But I have, and it was because I answered three questions wrong. I’m a Christian. I’ll meet with Christians, and I’ll help Christians,” Nerren said. Despite never having converted any Indian or Nepalese people, Nerren was given a 7 year prison sentence.
The U.S. initially refused to negotiate for his release, with the Trump administration seemingly prioritizing a weapons deal with India over the rights of an American citizen. A BJP official informed Nerren that he was being arrested for his faith, that it was at the order of higher ups within the party, and that he was being made into an example to other Christians and religious minorities.
“The BJP official said ‘We’re going to see to it that you spend the next seven years in prison for what you’re doing. We are going to stop Western people, especially you Christians, from coming here and lying to the poor children that they can have hope. I hope you die in prison. Here’s what you need to understand about the India of today. In the short future, every person in this country will be Hindu. They will leave the country, or we’re going to eliminate them. And I think you understand what eliminate means,” Nerren said.
SALDEF Policy Manager Jyot Singh also explained how the Modi regime’s policies profoundly affected Sikh Americans. Referring to the Modi government’s decision to cut off internet access in Punjab in their attempt to capture one political dissident, Singh said, “Modi’s government cut off the internet for 27 million people. Without homelines, they were cut off from the world and their families in the US. They could not communicate with their loved ones. None of this is acceptable in a country which enjoys an allyship with the global north and calls itself a democracy.”
HFHR Policy Director Ria Chakrabartty provided broad context about how, when it comes to U.S. relations with India, shortsighted economic concerns continue to triumph over pursuit of long-term stability and our stated commitments to upholding human rights. “The Biden administration’s refusal to hold the Modi government accountable boils down to the market potential that India presents. The administration is sacrificing human rights at the altar of a more profitable relationship with India,” Chakrabartty said.
She then outlined various concrete policies congress members can pursue to pressure the Executive to change its stance toward India, including making military aid to India conditional on improving its Human rights policies, aggressive letter-writing campaigns, and interventions in the budgetary process.
In his talk, former U.S. Ambassador Islam Siddiqui underscored how the US can very easily maintain its trade relations with India while publicly condemning its human rights record, pointing out how the US continues to maintain economic ties with Saudi Arabia while also speaking out against it in public and designating it a Country of Particular Concern. He nonetheless cautioned against putting too much faith in Modi’s leadership capabilities, saying, “It’s a bad bet to bet on Modi as a reliable partner. India can’t rise if all its minorities — 350,000,000 Christians and Hindus, Dalits and Adivasis — are put down. They all must rise.”
IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed connected violence in India to Hindu supremacist group activities within the U.S. “Elected officials here on Capitol Hill have received funding from donors connected with India’s most notorious Hindu supremacist paramilitary group, the RSS, and their goal is to ensure that the United States looks away from the atrocities committed by the Modi regime,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Supporters of this idea that Muslims and Christians have no place in India were responsible for parading a bulldozer down the streets of New Jersey in August 2022,” referring to an incident in which a Hindu supremacist hate symbol, representing the BJP’s policy of destroying Muslim homes and mosques, was paraded through Edison, New Jersey.