RAQIB HAMEED NAIK
WASHINGTON, DC – Dozens of Indian Americans have gathered at Lafayette Square, the park in front of the White House, to protest against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States.
Chanting slogans and holding placards that read “Save India from fascism”, the protesters on Thursday castigated Modi over human rights violations, persecution of Muslims and other minorities, new farm laws, and the crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir.
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Since his election as India’s prime minister in 2014, Modi has been accused of presiding over an unprecedented religious polarisation in his country, with several laws discriminating against minority groups, mainly its 200 million Muslims.
A protester outside White House holding poster showing a person being beaten during last year’s anti-Muslim riots in New Delhi [Raqib Hameed Naik/Al Jazeera]
Modi is currently in the US 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 four-nation Quad alliance aims to check China’s growing military and economic power globally.
Modi will also address the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday.
Later on Friday, Biden will host 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, to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“Bilateral discussion between the US and India will help reinforce and give momentum to the Quad discussion because many of the topics are very much interrelated,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters earlier this week.
Before the scheduled Biden-Modi meeting, the protesters outside the White House called on the US president to keep to his campaign promise of making human rights a central feature of the American foreign policy.
Last year, during the presidential election campaign, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris strongly condemned New Delhi’s crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, the implementation of a controversial citizens list in Assam state, and the passage of an “anti-Muslim” citizenship law that triggered nationwide protests and deadly riots in the capital.
Dozens of Muslim activists and students were thrown into jail for protesting against the 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations called “fundamentally discriminatory” as it blocks naturalisation for Muslims.
Activists wear Hitler-Modi masks in front of the White House where Biden will hold bilateral meeting with Modi later on Friday [
Al Jazeera reached out to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s office to confirm if human rights and religious freedom were on the agenda during the Biden-Modi meeting, but a spokesperson declined to comment.
Victor Begg, a 74-year-old community leader and activist, said he travelled all the way from Florida state to register his protest against Biden’s meeting with the Hindu nationalist leader.
“What Modi represents is totally against American values. By allowing him into the United States and hosting him in the White House compromises our democracy as well,” Begg told Al Jazeera.
The activists raised the recent surge in the attacks and killings of religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, by the members of Hindu right-wing groups in various parts of India.
“Right 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 stay silent. This meeting is the right time to send a stern message to India,” Syed Ali, the president of an advocacy group, the Indian American Muslim Council, told Al Jazeera.(Al Jazeera)