- The social critic and political activist made the remarks at a Congressional briefing on Worsening Hate Speech and Violence in India, organized by a coalition of 17 civil liberties and human rights organizations.
The Narendra Modi-led government in India is “systematically dismantling Indian secular democracy” and “turning the country into a Hindu ethnocracy, with almost 250 million Muslims becoming a persecuted minority,” according to Prof. Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s leading public intellectuals and Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The assault is taking other forms as well, including a general attack on independent thought and the educational system.”
Chomsky made the remarks in a recorded statement delivered at a Feb. 9 Congressional briefing on ‘Worsening Hate Speech and Violence in India,’ organized by a coalition of 17 civil liberties and human rights organizations. Joining Chomsky were other academics and activists who described the treatment of Indian Muslims during Prime Minister Modi’s rule as “lethal,” “horrific,” and a threat to democratic values.
While Indian human rights activist Harsh Mander and scholar Angana Chatterji delivered pre-recorded statements, John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch and U.K.-based researcher Annapurna Menon addressed the webinar live.
Mander, in his statement, noted how “India’s leaders are more determined than ever to push the country down this horrific path of hate, fear and blood.” Mander, who is now based in Berlin, Germany, was nominated last week for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Karwan-E-Mohabbat program that helps provide support to the families of mob lynching victims.
Noting that India’s “immense tragedy” was that people “steeped deeply in the Hindu supremacist ideology that spurred Gandhi’s killing are in fact ruling India today,” he added that these leaders are “more determined than ever to push the country down this horrific path of hate, fear and blood.” The India, which finds itself today “in a frighteningly dark and violent space of fear and hate, is a profoundly different country from one that was imagined and promised in its freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, and written into its Constitution.”
Angana Chatterji, a scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and a co-founder of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir, in her address highlighted the increased mobilization of Hindu supremacists as upcoming state elections in India draw nearer.
“At the onset of critical state-level elections in India, Hindu nationalist leaders are energizing their constituents with calls for mass violence against Muslims and promises to deliver on hate,” she said. “Minority communities and allies are urgently concerned that, should a BJP victory fail to materialize in state elections, aggravated antipathy to Muslims will inspire Hindu nationalists to take up arms.” Even as hate speech increases, press freedoms and the right to freedom of expression among human rights defenders have been repressed by the Modi regime, she added, “Narendra Modi’s silence vilification of India’s Islamic history served as a dog whistle to Hindu nationalists to weaponize against the purported threat to India’s Hinduness posed by Muslims.”
John Sifton urged U.S. officials, members of Congress, and citizens, to “forcefully communicate” concerns about the growing threats to minorities by the Indian government. He said the “greatest threat” to India’s Constitution today was the Modi government’s “promotion of India’s majority religion, Hinduism, at the expense of the country’s secular foundation and its religious minorities.” He added that the Election Commission, the judiciary, and the National Human Rights Commission “are all facing increasing scrutiny under implications of bias.”
Emphasizing the need for global outcry in order for the Indian government to take heed, he said” “These deterioration are threatening India’s underlying identity—the very idea of India as a diverse, pluralistic nation-state — and they harm India’s global standing as a functioning, rights-respecting democracy. In every opportunity that presents itself.
Annapurna Menon, a doctoral researcher and visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster, talked about the status of press freedom in India. She noted how journalists have been exposed to all kinds of dangers — police violence, reprisals instigated by local officials/ministers, illegal detentions, and charges of sedition. “The situation in Indian Kashmir is even dire, where the journalists routinely face police questioning, ban on reporting, suspension of internet services and financial constraints in line with BJP’s recent ‘media policy,’” she said. “[Because] India’s ranking has slipped to 142 on the [the World Press Freedom] Index, the situation on the ground is extremely alarming.”
She drew her attention to Srinagar-based photojournalist Masrat Zahra, “whose family was subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Indian Police as a crackdown on the press in Indian-occupied Kashmir continues to escalate”; as well as on Fahad Shah, a renowned Kashmiri journalist, founder and editor of ‘‘The Kashmir Walla’,” who was arrested recently by the police in Pulwama under terrorism and sedition laws; and on Sajjad Gul, another journalist of ‘‘The Kashmir Walla,” who was arrested earlier this month.
The briefing was co-hosted by 17 organizations, including Amnesty International USA, Genocide Watch, 21Wilberforce, Hindus for Human Rights, Indian American Muslim Council, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, Center for Pluralism, American Muslim Institution, International Society for Peace and Justice, Association of Indian Muslims of America, and the Humanism Project (Australia).