- History will not forgive Indian American lawmakers who are enabling Hindutva fascism in the U.S. and in India.
The news of the forcible shut down of Amnesty International India (Amnesty) is spreading far and wide. Newspapers have published numerous op-eds, activists are planning protests, and foreign governments and international organizations are mobilizing to push back on the Modi government’s undemocratic and vindictive action.
This desperate act of the Indian state appears to be a retaliation to Amnesty’s decision to publish fact-finding reports on the Kashmir lockdown and the complicity of the Delhi police in the recent pogroms.
That courageous work of a reputable, wholly-India funded, human rights organization is now being deliberately portrayed by some BJP political leaders as a moral fight against the ‘Western concept’ of human rights.
As a Hindu, I take strong exception to the xenophobic and dangerous notion that Hinduism somehow has a different moral yardstick to measure a human being’s yearning for basic rights to life and liberty.
Clearly, the Modi government’s move was designed to send a larger message that it will not tolerate any public dissent, even as it uses the COVID crisis as a cover to shut down or render toothless all institutions designed to uphold the Indian Constitution.
Amnesty has publicly shared the chronology of events leading up to its decision to shut its doors in its September 30 press release.
It describes a feeding frenzy with multiple state agencies descending upon the organization to look for any shred of evidence of wrongdoing, which they did not seem to find. It talks about interviews with employees, in which they were threatened and urged to leave the organization. Amnesty also faced a preposterous charge of money laundering, designed to make it tougher for the organization to seek court intervention. And, finally, the Government of India decided to freeze Amnesty’s bank accounts, knowing full well that this would force the organization to shut its doors.
What is less known is the hectic behind-the-scenes efforts to save Amnesty, led by many concerned people in India as well as internationally, including me.
For my part, I made a last ditch effort to get support from U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, who asked for and received a full personal briefing directly from the Executive Director of Amnesty in a zoom call on September 3.
My hope was that his avowed proximity to the BJP government and his self- portrayal as a champion of democracy and human rights might prompt him to intervene with the Delhi government on behalf of Amnesty and persuade them to step back from the precipice.
Since January, I have been in regular communication with the Congressman, sharing, at his request, updates on the worsening state-sponsored violence against Indian Muslims. At every stage, he has been expressing his concerns at the unfolding events, and I have been urging him to speak up for human rights in India.
Unfortunately, all of my efforts have been in vain, as the Congressman has made no effort whatsoever to express any concern about the dire situation in India, especially for the religious minorities. His studied silence clearly casts a huge shadow over his claim as a champion of democratic values.
My zoom call with the Congressman, along with Amnesty was my final attempt to give him a chance to walk his talk. As a prominent voice in the U.S. Congress and in the Indian-American community, he was in a position for over three weeks to say or do something to stop the attack on Amnesty. Much to my regret, he failed.
Amnesty and other champions of marginalized people in India shall survive to speak another day. But, in my view, history will never forgive Indian-American lawmakers who say on the one hand that they want to end the authoritarian and undemocratic Trump presidency here, but on the other hand are knowingly enabling the Modi government’s repressive and dangerous policies in India.
Raju Rajagopal is co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, a U.S.-based advocacy organization dedicated to speaking for the human rights of all communities in the U.S. and in India. To find out more, please log on to www.hindusforhumanrights.org.