Dear Mr. President,
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, DC, on June 22 is an important opportunity for the US government to raise concerns—both privately and publicly—about India’s worsening human rights situation.
India is a major geopolitical actor and vital interlocutor to the US. Yet respect for civil and political rights has deteriorated under Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, especially for groups facing persecution due to their caste, religion, ethnicity, or political belief, and for civil society advocates, journalists, and human rights defenders critical of the government. This worsening record is endangering US-India ties and a relationship that began growing before Modi became India’s prime minister.
We strongly urge you to use your meetings with Prime Minister Modi to urge Modi to move his government and his party in a different direction.
There are numerous areas of concern. Increasingly in recent years, BJP leaders have used toxic and hateful speech targeting religious minorities, inciting violence or discrimination against them. BJP-led authorities have tightened restrictions on free speech while ramping up censorship and using overbroad and vague laws to investigate and prosecute critics. Modi’s government has also demonstrated blatant bias in protecting BJP supporters and affiliates accused in a range of crimes, including murder, assault, corruption, and sexual violence. At the international level, Modi’s government has often proven unwilling to stand with other governments on key human rights crises, abstaining or refraining from condemning grave human rights violations elsewhere.
Highlighting concerns about India’s human rights situation could have a positive effect in communicating to Prime Minister Modi that US leaders are scrutinizing his government’s actions and are troubled by the worsening trends and their effect on US-India relations. Hearing similar concerns from US officials across branches of government and the political spectrum could motivate him to do more domestically to significantly improve human rights in India.
US officials can point to how the US political system has itself struggled with toxic rhetoric, while working to maintain an open and free media. These topics can be discussed openly and diplomatically in both directions.
Specifically, you should urge Prime Minister Modi to:
- End discriminatory policies and practices against minorities and other marginalized groups. Prime Minister Modi and other leaders should publicly condemn communal speeches and violence by members and supporters of the BJP and its affiliates, particularly targeting Christian and Muslim minorities. US officials and members of Congress should press Prime Minister Modi about BJP-affiliated actors’ statements or other forms of incitement to violence or discrimination throughout his visit.
- End politically motivated investigations or harassment of civil society groups under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and other laws that have been used to intimidate or censor civil society.
- Stop targeting civil society groups with censorship of online content and requests or orders for social media takedowns.
- End internet shutdowns, which are undermining the government’s “Digital India” initiative and India’s reputation for freed expression.
- Drop charges and release human rights defenders and peaceful critics including those being prosecuted in the Bhima Koregaon case, in cases related to the Citizenship Amendment Law, and for cases in Jammu and Kashmir.
- On the international front, withdraw support for Myanmar’s abusive junta, support stronger mechanisms for accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka and Nepal; and join global efforts to obtain justice for victims of grave crimes in violation of international law, whether against Ukrainians, Syrians, Palestinians, or Afghans.
Thank you for your attention.
Human Rights Watch