US activists protest against Modi visit

Al Jazeera speaks to some of the activists who oppose Indian PM’s visit to the US for his handling of 2002 riots.

Modi was denied a US visa in 2005 for allegedly failing to control religious violence in Gujarat [Reuters]

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the US on his maiden visit since assuming office in May.

It’s a moment of triumph for Modi who was denied a US visa in 2005 for his alleged failure as the state chief minister to control the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat.

His supporters have planned to organise an elaborate welcome ceremony that includes an address by the right-wing leader at the famous Madison Square Garden in New York City. Close to 20,000 people are expected to attend the grand reception.

But there are human rights activists who continue to oppose his visit to the US. They say that justice has not been served to the riot victims.

Al Jazeera spoke to some of the activists who have planned to protest against the Indian prime minister’s visit.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, 47, New York


“We are holding a ‘Citizens Court’ in Washington DC on September 30 in front of the White House. Our purpose of doing it at the precise location and time of the Obama-Modi summit is to remind the world and the American public that just because Modi had to be let into the country as head of a foreign government, the plight of religious minorities in India has not improved, actually it has worsened. Modi, his party BJP and associated groups have launched their onslaught on the religious minorities with renewed zeal. Today, religious minorities in India face existential threat. The Citizens Court that will indict Modi on September 30 is the ‘voice of the voiceless’.”

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is a human rights lawyer and legal adviser of Sikhs for Justice

Nishrin Jafri, 49, Delaware


“The US visa ban had given me a sense of relief, that within India and outside India, people are aware of the happenings and the atrocities that are being inflicted based on religion and under the banner of democracy.”

“I am sad and could not believe that the US government would turn its back on us, but then this did not surprise me. I am not in politics, but I am aware of decades of US international policies and dealings, why should we be expecting something special. But I do know that the US understands the entire situation and what happened in Gujarat…”

“People just do not go out to kill in trucks in the thousands all over a state unless it is preplanned and organised. In broad daylight on February 28, 2002, a mob of 10,000 people had surrounded 300 people, burning, looting killing children and women with swords and knives, throwing fire bombs and burning them alive. My father was cut into pieces, tortured for hours before and then his head was paraded around.”

Nishrin’s father, Ahsan Jafri, a former Member of Parliament, was among the 69 people of Gulberg Society, a Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, who were killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots

Dr Shaik Ubaid, 52, New York


“We are protesting outside Madison Square Garden on Friday. It is to protest against the massacre in Gujarat and how the victims still have not received any justice. We are also protesting against the ongoing atrocities and hate mongering [against minorities] that is going on in India… We will not allow him to destroy India’s secularism and pluralism.”

“The first thing he should do is put an end to the propaganda of ‘love-jihad’ and the re-conversion of Christians and Muslims to Hindus…”

“We want to say to him that abandon the ideology of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [parent body of BJP]. Stop impeding speedy process of justice.”

“He should apologise first and foremost. It is completely unacceptable that he did not apologise.”

Dr Shaik Ubaid is a member of Alliance for Justice and Accountability, one of the key organisers of a protest outside Madison Square Garden in New York

Raja Swamy, 43, Arkansas


“We are extremely disappointed that the Obama administration wilfully ignored several years of principled US government policy that denied Mr Modi a visa due to his sordid human rights record. Successive State Department reports identified Modi as a rights violator and cited his role in the 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat. We understand that as the head of government his present visit is facilitated by international protocols. We also recognise that the US approach to policy on the human rights front is invariably subordinated to the perceived economic benefits to US corporations. Last year we supported efforts in the US Congress to place human rights at the centre of the US-India strategic dialogue in order to address this crass and unprincipled practice of ignoring human rights in favour of business…”

Raja Swamy is a member of Ghadar Alliance, an educational/watchdog coalition formed in the wake of the BJP victory in May

Satinath Choudhary, 72, New York


“Modi’s elevation to the seat of prime minister of India does not absolve his culpability in the genocide committed in 2002 in Gujarat.”

“I am here in New York, I would definitely be going to Madison Square Garden to register my protest against Narendra Modi.”

Satinath Choudhary is associated with Alliance for Social Justice

Kaleem Kawaja, 62, Washington DC

“We felt a blow when he was elected. We don’t have anything against the BJP when [former Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee was there, the philosophy was different…”

“It is for Prime Minister Modi to prove everyone wrong. He has an opportunity now, although he has not demonstrated so far. He should get rid of people such as Amit Shah [a close aide of Modi] and Hindu far-right groups. He should be a Vajpayee. He can still be a Hindu nationalist but be a gentle face of Hindu nationalism not an extremist face.”

“He has an opportunity to change himself. He thinks for the good of India and if he frees himself from the influence of hardliners then he can do something good. We haven’t totally lost hope in him.”

Kaleem Kawaja is a member of Coalition Against Genocide, a group that had successfully lobbied for Narendra Modi’s visa ban in 2005

Follow Priyanka Gupta on Twitter: @priyankagIND

Source: Al Jazeera