When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the United States next week, he will address a large gathering of Indian Americans in Houston, and be joined by President Donald Trump. He will also meet business leaders, receive an award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and address the United Nations General Assembly.
Wherever he goes, the Indian delegation will likely encounter protests over the worsening human rights situation in India. Since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took office in 2014, there has been an increase in attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims, a crackdown on free speech, and targeting of human rights activists.
Much of the criticism, however, will focus on India’s recent actions in Jammu and Kashmir since the government revoked the state’s autonomous status in August. This includes a broad internet and mobile phone blackout and the detention without charge of several thousand people, including leaders of political parties and separatist groups, journalists, and lawyers.
The current human rights situation in Kashmir cannot be divorced from the nearly three decades of separatist insurgency and counter-insurgency that has left tens of thousands killed, and many more injured or displaced. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said his government is trying to “find actually more effective answers for what is a very challenging situation.”
But at the same time, boasts by BJP leaders that the recent Kashmir decision will enable their acquiring land and brides in Kashmir has many Kashmiris deeply concerned that the doors have been opened for a new influx of abuses.
Instead of committing more abuses against the beleaguered community, the Modi government would do better by addressing Kashmiri grievances over human rights violations. So, when Modi and his delegation face protests in the US, they should listen and seek a way to engage, instead of responding with angry defiance.
And when US officials and business leaders meet Modi, they should remember that any celebration of India should be about lauding its long embrace of democracy, civil liberties and human rights. And in that, the Modi government has floundered.