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India/US: Put Rights at Center of Modi-Biden Summit

Indian Premier’s Visit an Opportunity to Spotlight Worsening Trends

A demonstrator outside the White House in Washington, DC, protests Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the United States, September 23, 2021. © 2021 Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto via AP

(Washington, DC) – Upcoming meetings between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden and congressional leaders should include meaningful discussions of human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said today.

Modi is scheduled to visit Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023. In a June 8 letter, Human Rights Watch urged President Biden and congressional leaders to raise concerns about India’s rights situation with Prime Minister Modi directly.

“It’s important for Prime Minister Modi to see that US leaders are scrutinizing his government’s actions and that worsening abuses are affecting US-India relations,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Both Modi and Biden should jointly acknowledge human rights challenges – both in India and the US – and agree to address them.”

In its World Report 2023, Human Rights Watch highlighted major rights concerns in country chapters on India and the US. Both governments need to do more to address racism, racial or caste-based supremacy, xenophobia, economic inequality, and other entrenched barriers to systemic change.

Several states in the United States have recently tightened restrictions on voting rights, peaceful protests, and access to reproductive health, and censored educational materials and journalism. The US government has not taken adequate steps to dismantle systemic racism integral to many US institutions or carry out fair and equitable criminal justice and immigration reforms.

In India, respect for civil and political rights has markedly deteriorated under 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. Modi should be taking robust action to stem discriminatory policies and practices against minorities and other marginalized groups, Human Rights Watch said.

Biden and US congressional leaders should urge Modi to condemn communal violence by members and supporters of the BJP and its affiliates, particularly targeting Christian and Muslim minorities. They should also urge the Modi government to end its crackdowns on civil society groups and politically motivated prosecutions and raids on human rights activists and critics, and stop the pervasive use of overbroad and indiscriminate internet shutdowns that disproportionately harm millions of people living with poverty, and that undermine the government’s “Digital India” mission.

On June 20 in Washington, DC, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA will host a screening for journalists and policymakers of the two-part BBC documentary, “India: The Modi Question.” In January 2023, Indian authorities took legal action to block the documentary’s broadcast in India.

“Both the US and Indian governments should be reaffirming their commitments to fundamental rights and liberties,” Sifton said. “The leaders of the world’s two largest democracies should be speaking frankly and directly about human rights issues in both countries.”

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