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Modi govt intimidating US citizens critical of abuses in India: NY Christian group to Biden

Counterview Desk 

the New York Council of Churches for its release of an open letter calling on the Biden administration to “speak out forcefully” against rising Hindu extremist violence targeting Christians and other minorities in India.
In the letter addressed to President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and other major elected officials, the NY Council of Churches expressed "grave concern regarding escalating anti-Christian violence" throughout India, particularly in Manipur, where predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo tribals have faced hundreds of violent attacks on their villages, churches, and homes at the hands of predominantly Hindu Meitei mobs.
“The New York State Council of Churches… calls on the President and Congress to speak out forcefully against Indian Prime Minister Modi’s systematic persecution of Christians and other religious minorities,” stated the letter, which was signed by twenty-five faith leaders from the Christian community.
The letter pointed out that despite the US praising India as an ally, Modi’s supporters have a well-documented track record of abusing American citizens who are sympathetic to the plight of Indian minorities.
“We note with alarm the growth of the Hindu Nationalist affiliated groups in the United States many of which influence our domestic politics, spread disinformation about what is happening in India and seek to silence and intimidate United States citizens who are critical of the Indian Government,” the letter said.
The letter criticized US lawmakers for being willing to “set aside their Christian principles to openly defend the Prime Minister and ignore all of the Indian government’s well-documented abuses against Christians and other religious minorities,” particularly since several US-based activists, journalists, and human rights organizations have faced severe harassment from Modi’s supporters. 

Text:

Dear Mr. President, Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Hussain, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Senate Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker McCarthy and House Minority Leader Jeffries:
The New York State Council of Churches, a member of the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches, calls on the President and Congress to speak out forcefully against Indian Prime Minister Modi’s systematic persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. The occasion for this missive is the intense ongoing violence against the Zo (Kuki-Zomi-MizoHmar) tribal people, most of whom are Christians, in Manipur including the gruesome public gang rape of two Christian women who were paraded naked through the streets by a group Hindu men. This incident is emblematic of long standing and widespread discriminatory policies of the Modi government.
In India, the Zo (Kuki-Zomi-Mizo-Hmar) tribal people are among many native tribes (Adivasis) who benefit from affirmative action which gives them reservations and quotas in educational institutions and government jobs. While Meiteis claim they are marginalized as compared to the other mainstream communities, Kukis contend that the Meiteis already have advantages as Hindus since they are part of the Hindu majority. Giving them the added benefit of affirmative action status boosts their employment and education privileges at the expense of the Kukis. Through their chief minister in Manipur, Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu majoritarian Bharatiy Janata Party (BJP) in conjunction with the National People's Party, Naga People's Front and Lok Janshakti Party and Nongthombam Biren collude as part of a systematic campaign by the BJP to further its quest for India to become a Hindu nationalist state where other minorities, including tribals, have their rights eroded or taken away. The Kukis, which are primarily Christian, decided they would resist this injustice and consequently saw loss of life and the burning of churches. While the violent incidents are not entirely religious in nature, the sympathy gained by the majority Meitei Hindus from the majoritarian Hindtuva ecology in the early stage of the genocide against the Zo (Kuki-Zomi-Mizo-Hmar) by manipulating the media (state and national), enabled the violence on the minority Zo people.
We urge you to take seriously that this is both an ethnic and a religious conflict. Experts from the United Nations raised alarm about the violence in Manipur on September 4, when they said: “It is particularly concerning that the violence seems to have been preceded and incited by hateful and inflammatory speech that spread online and offline to justify the atrocities committed against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, on account of their ethnicity and religious belief,” they said. “We are further alarmed by the reported misuse of counterrorism measures to legitimise acts of violence and repression against ethnic and religious minorities.”
As you may know, the New York State Council of Churches has consistently spoken out about human rights and religious freedom violations in India. The Council’s voice has become stronger in the wake of an incident in 2018 where 9 of our members were interrogated and denied entry at the Chennai airport and sent home for being Christians who came to meet with people of all faiths at the invitation of the Church of South India. The all-too-common practice of the Indian Government denying entry to Americans and other foreign nationals based on their faith reflects a far more serious problem that Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Dalit women, Adivasis, and Sikhs are very vulnerable to systematic violence, discrimination, harassment and even the denial of their basic citizenship at the hands of the Prime Minister Modi's Hindu Nationalist Government. While Americans are denied entry for peaceable activity, US government continues to offer entry to Indian speakers which promote Hindu Nationalism in India and the United States. The government also heavily censors the press.
We note with alarm the growth of the Hindu Nationalist affiliated groups in the United States many of which influence our domestic politics, spread disinformation about what is happening in India and seek to silence and intimidate United States citizens who are critical of the Indian government. The fascist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political wing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its religious wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) its student wing Akhil Bharativa Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the RSS charitable wing, Sewa International all have their American counterparts. They include Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Hindu Students Council and the US-based India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) tied to Sewa International.
Another organization, Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) in Frisco, Texas held a fundraiser during the weekend of Thanksgiving in 2022 to destroy 15 Christian churches. The Federation of the Indian American Christians of North America, conservative Christian media Christian Broadcasting Network, along with Council of American-Islamic Relations, Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights spoke out. IAMC coordinated a letter addressed to the Texas delegation to bring under review the 501C3 status of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation for illegally using its organization to funnel money in a foreign country to discriminate against religious minorities. While many Indian organizations enjoy the freedom given through our Constitution as religious minorities in the United States, some may inappropriately use their 501C3 status to raise funds for purportedly charitable purposes but in fact further the India Government’s nationalist agenda. For further commentary about connections between the Indian Government and its US affiliates, please see Dr. Audrey Truscke’s presentation as part of the Religions for Peace Seminar on the Rise of Hindu Nationalism in the United States.
We are also distressed that, during Prime Minister's recent official visit to Washington, we had many lawmakers willing to set aside their Christian principles to openly defend the Prime Minister and ignore all of the Indian government’s well-documented abuses against Christians and other religious minorities. Members of Congress who boycotted the Modi speech came in for heavy criticism with little support offered from the vast majority of Congress.
We were also deeply concerned that President Biden, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit, despite considerable appeals from activist groups and a letter from 83 members of Congress, only offered the most modest private criticism of the Prime Minister’s human rights violations. The mild rebuke from the President happened even though the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, for the last four years, has recommended India be placed on the list of Countries of Particular Concern. Modi’s visit occurred during the ethnic cleansing of the Kuki-Zomi Christian minorities in Manipur, India.
We know that both the President and Congress were aware of Ambassador Hussein’s reports on  India’s religious freedom violations. Indeed, New York State Council of Churches President, Gary VanKennen and Executive Director, Peter Cook, personally met with him and his predecessor, Ambassador Sam Brownback, to share our concerns on several occasions
We were horrified, after the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington when the Modi government capitalized on the good will extended to him, and turned around to defame and criticize the Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Sidiqqui who asked Modi a question about religious freedom at the highly controlled White House press conference where only two questions were allowed. Even President Obama was subject to racist slurs and old political tropes after he mildly criticized Modi. While the White House condemned the Modi Government’s behavior, it is inconsistent with the US Government’s silence about Modi’s abusive policies before, during and after the visit.
As another example, the Union Minister of India at its BJP headquarters sought to slander our colleague, Sunita Viswanath. We should not really be surprised this happened, since many of our American partners have experienced abuse and political harassment firsthand from the Indian government and its operatives. For example, the Federation for Indian American Christians of North America, Hindus for Human Rights, Indian American Muslim Council, and Audrey Truschke, endured a multi-million dollar defamatory lawsuit from the Hindu America Foundation, was dismissed by a US Federal judge.
Throughout these trials, there has been no acknowledgement of this harassment of Americans by the Indian Government by Congress or the President. We are frustrated that no action gets taken by the United States Government when American citizens are denied entry into India because of their faith or, worse, when Americans are brutalized and incarcerated in India for trying to offer assistance or intimidated on the ground as was the case with Pastor Bryan Nerren. We also note that our President, Gary VanKennen, when he last visited India, was subject to harassment and surveillance.
The most recent example of the Modi Government’s cultivation of hatred against religious minorities can be found in Manipur. These incidents are not only religious in nature, but they are also a systematic attempt to disenfranchise hill-tribes of their land rights and their ability to selfdetermination and self-governance.
We have heard for months leading up to, during and after the Prime Minister’s visit, of nearly 350 churches being burned, pastors brutally beaten, over 160 people killed and many incarcerated, and about 60,000 tribals being displaced in their own motherland. We are particularly outraged at the heinous and reprehensible public act of molestation and rape committed by majority Meitei men against two young Zo tribal girls in belonging to the Christian community in Manipur. Such atrocities are committed by the Meiteis knowing that they will eventually escape the law under the support of the Centre that shares religious sentiments with the Meiteis. United States citizens, as is often the case, have been reluctant to speak out for fear that their loved ones in Manipur could be targets.
We understand the Supreme Court of India gave an ultimatum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an immediate intervention or else the Court would intervene. The video of this heinous crime became viral in the social media. Recently the European Union Parliament spoke out against the Modi government and its complicity with this violence. Prime Minister Modi to date has only released a brief mild rebuke only after the video of the gang rape surfaced. He later spoke at Parliament for 5 minutes on the subject of Manipur. Moreover, he has tried to pass off the conflict as an internal tribal dispute divorced from the government’s discriminatory policies against Christians and other minorities.
The Indian Bishops of Kerala issued a strongly worded statement to counter the Modi Government narrative. Eric Garcetti, Envoy to India, said, “We pray for peace there. When you ask us about the concern of the United States, I don’t think it’s a strategic concern. I think it’s about human concern.” He was slammed by the Indian Government for inappropriately speaking out about an internal matter. We are not aware of any members of Congress who have spoken out about the violence in Manipur perhaps because they are unwilling to be intimidated by the Indian Government or fear alienating American Hindu Nationalist donors to their campaigns.
In response to the crisis in Manipur, The North American Manipur Tribal Association was founded by members of Christian Kuki-Zomi diaspora whose immediate families were impacted by religious persecution and ethnic cleansing. NAMTA documents abuses in Manipur and also provide the public tools and narratives to address the crisis and support victims and displaced people in Manipur.
In the United States, we support strong statements made against white supremacy and Christian nationalism which have been developed by the National Council of Churches which is reflected in their document: The Dangers of Christian Nationalism in the United States: A Policy Statement of the National Council of Churches USA. We are aware of Christian nationalist ties in the United States to European Fascism, Anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment. We also decry the ways in which the church has furthered the American nationalism project by calling for a theocracy or a Christian government. We are keen, however, to point out that Hindu Nationalism is very simpatico with US expressions of Christian Nationalism and Fascism. Indeed, the RSS was indebted to German fascist ideology which drew its inspiration from white terrorism against blacks in the American South. Today, there is a lot of cooperation among Indian Government operatives in the United States and Christian nationalist and white supramist groups and movements. They embrace and exploit a shared distaste for Muslims. For a commentary on these complex interrelationships, please See Religions for Peace Seminar on the Rise of Hindu Nationalism in the United States which was recently promoted by the National Council of Churches. For an extensive commentary on the history of Hindutva and its current expressions please see Religion Links publication on Reporting on Hindu Nationalism.
There has been no acknowledgement of harassment of Americans by the Indian Government by Congress or the President
In our time, the Council decries the ways that all faiths are distorted by religious nationalism which give rise to oppression, violence and discrimination against religious minorities whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism or Hinduism. We always stand for gender justice, racial justice, equality and respect for all individuals because we believe everyone is equally created in God’s image and must be accorded human dignity. This is one reason that we are strong proponents of the separation of church and state which frees people of all faiths to testify to their faith in the public square while calling on their governments to embrace their secular constitutions and democratic principles and protect religious freedom.
In the face of Hindu Nationalism, we cannot remain silent bystanders, as silence only perpetuates the cycle of violence and injustice perpetrated by the Modi Government. Eventually we who have stayed silent will risk our very lives too. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it’s a double sin to remain silent for racism is a sin and to not speak up about racism as a sin. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friend …For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men to do nothing”.
In the wake of this gruesome incidents in Manipur and the long time systemic human rights and religious freedom violations across the country, the Council calls on the Biden Administration and State Department along with the United States Congress to do the following:
  1. Issue a forceful condemnation of the violence against minority hill-tribes in Manipur, and support their rights within the Constitution of India, for them to be able to live and practice their religion without fear for their lives, and for continued protection of tribal land rights and the right to self-determination and self-governance for the tribal people. We also urge you to heed the strong warning from the Bishops of Kerala and the United Nations United Nations to address this crisis immediately and take seriously the underlying religious and ethnic tensions.
  2. We ask for an investigation into the denial of entry of Americans into India. We would also welcome the possible barring of Indians who come to the United States who are directly furthering the Hindu nationalist agenda and foment discrimination and violence in the United States through their speech and lobbying activities. We find it distasteful that Prime Minister Modi was issued an invitation to the United States to propagate his Hindu Nationalist project before a joint session of Congress and being hosted at a state dinner, while Americans, with more peaceful intentions, are denied entry into India. We wish to have the Government pay particular attention to how Indian Americans and other Americans in the United States and their loved ones in India are adversely affected by the actions of the Modi Government.
  3. We ask the Biden Administration to adopt and implement the recommendations of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to list India as a Country of Particular Concern. After the Commission has offered its recommendations for four years, it is not acceptable to us that the Administration has not designated India as a CPC.
  4. We ask the United States to withhold substantial financial assistance, including favorable trade agreements and sale of military hardware, until such time that the India Government extends equal rights, including full citizenship, to all of its citizens regardless of religion or caste status. We insist that India live into its promise as a democracy which follows its secular constitution. We don’t want to use US taxpayer dollars to supply weapons to India which in turn are used against their people. In the current appropriation period military sales should be tied to progress on human rights.
  5. We urge top executives, boards and shareholders of Fortune 500 and other large companies with substantial investments and employees in India, to review their investment policies in India in light of established Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles.
  6. Stop any 501c3 in the United States from funneling money for activities in India that violate the Geneva Convention including the destruction of Christian churches. United State taxpayers, by offering the financial benefit of tax exemption, should not be funding abusive actions of foreign governments against its citizens.
  7. We ask the United States to call on India to ease the rules of their Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to stop preventing United States charities from rendering financial assistance to Indian based Christian not-for-profits and other humanitarian relief organizations. The restrictions are ensuring that US organizations, including churches, cannot respond to human suffering in the country because of these overly restrictive FCRA practices.
  8. We also urge the President to raise questions about freedom of the press, use of surveillance equipment against India citizens, and advocate for the release of political prisoners. He must also must strenuously object to the Modi Government’s intimidation of US citizens who dare to speak out about abuses in India.
We must work towards creating a safe and secure environment where every individual, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or faith is given complete rights and full citizenship.
As we call for political change in India, we stand in solidarity with the victims of religion-based violence and their families during this painful time. Let us not forget that the true measure of a society is how it protects its most vulnerable members. 
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