On September 22, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a crowd of some 50,000 Indian Americans at the Howdy, Modi event in Houston, Texas. US President Donald Trump and the United States Congressional Delegation were too, in attendance at the grand spectacle at NRG Stadium in Texas’ most populous city. As big media in India carried on with their usual jingoistic coverage of the event, the fact that reports of Anti-Modi protests that took place just outside the stadium didn’t get any love from Indian media was not at all surprising. But who were these protesters who have been largely ignored by the mainstream media? And why are they protesting against Modi? Let’s have a look.
From Howdy, Modi to Go, Back Modi
At what is being deemed as a historic event by many in the world right now, PM Modi, answering the question that the title of the event seemed to pose, told the crowd that “Bharat mein sab acha hai” (Everything is great in India) in multiple Indian languages. But the volunteers from the Alliance of Justice and Accountability, an umbrella coalition of different organisations that promote pluralism, tolerance, social justice and respect for human rights, do not seem to think so. If all is clearly great in India, why would they be out in the streets in such large numbers to stage protests against the Indian Prime Minister? The protest was called ‘Resist Hindutva’ and focused on highlighting “the retrograde, near-fascist politics of Modi’s government of pushing attrition, bigotry, and religious persecution of minorities”.
Even before Modi had arrived in the US, Twitter had been all abuzz with #AdiosModi, with retweets from not just Indian-Americans who couldn’t get behind a leader of the political party that has overseen a staggering number of human rights atrocities ever since it came into power, but also attracted the ire of many other South Asian and American activists too. Pieter Friedrich, a South Asian Affairs analyst, was an imminent figure at the protests and called Americans supporting and welcoming Modi “complicit in Modi’s crimes against humanity”. Amidst chants of “Modi, Modi you can’t hide, you committed genocide”, protestors raised the issue of the communication lockdown in Kashmir, the panic in Assam created by the NRC, the ever-increasing number of mob lynchings of Muslims and Dalits, and the constant attacks on freedom of speech by the State.
Everything Is Not Great In India
During his address to the huge audience present at the event, PM Modi stood by his government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, which revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. “We bid farewell to another thing that has been a big challenge for 70 years…Article 370 [of the Indian Constitution]. Article 370 had deprived the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh from development and rights. Terrorists and separatists were using it to their advantage,” he said. He then went on to ask the audience to give the Indian parliamentarians who had helped revoke Article 370 a standing ovation. As the crowd cheered, it completely forgot to take into account the reports of at least 4,000 Kashmiri people being arrested or detained under the Public Safety Act. While they clapped and hooted for the Members of Parliament who approved the decision to revoke 370, they conveniently failed to think of Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and many others like them who have been locked in their own homes.
It’s not just Kashmiris that the Indian State seems to be targeting. After the publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), lakhs of Assamese people have been living in a state of fear and panic. Under the BJP’s pro-Hindu Nationalism regime, there has been a surge in mob lynching all over India, with the victims largely being Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.
Suchitra Vijaya, a lawyer and executive director of the Polis Project recently co-wrote an opinion piece titled “The Gates Foundation shouldn’t give an award to Narendra Modi” along with Arjun Singh Sethi, who is a human rights lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. In this piece, the authors express their disappointment on Gates Foundation‘s decision to give an award to Modi for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission).
“Since his reelection, Modi has also implemented laws and amendments that erode human rights protections. This summer, his government passed a bill that would enable the state to unilaterally declare an individual a terrorist without due process and crippled the citizens’ right to free information. Activists, scholars and human rights defenders remain in prison without bail under a variety of far-fetched charges and overreaching laws, including most recently for allegedly conspiring to “attack the Prime Minister.” They write. “This is the leader the Gates Foundation has apparently chosen to honour.”
While the mainstream media’s lack of a backbone wouldn’t ever let the news of the Anti-Modi protests in Houston reach our ears, it is also our responsibility to call out the very same media that doesn’t seem to comprehend what ‘reporting’ is and keeps leading Indians on a dangerous path of hate and bigotry.
And lest we forget, it has now been 50 days since Kashmir has been under lockdown, its residents unable to reach their loved ones, its leaders imprisoned in their own homes, and its men, women and children being tortured and killed every single day till Kashmir continues to be under siege. So, no, “Bharat mein sab acha nahi hai”, and it is high time the Indian media starts talking about it.
Featured Image Source: Alliance for Justice and Accountability