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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar,Texas, TIO: As many as 15,000 protestors from Texas alone, comprising of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Dalits besides a sizeable number from the rest of the country, are expected to gather in Houston, on Sunday, to protest Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit here, to attend the “Howdy Modi” event. This is to counter the 50,000 strong crowds of Modi supporters that this community event has attracted, to welcome Modi on US soil, after his recent reelection. As soon as it was announced that US President Donald Trump will be part of the jamboree, American civil rights activists, human rights activists, members of local progressive churches and several democrats too have expressed their intent to join the protest.
This event is the largest ever, organized by the Indian diaspora, after the last one that was held in Madison Square Garden, New York in 2014, which had only 18,000 participants. The organizers, however, have reasons to be concerned as rain gods play truant in Houston, which is most likely to continue over the weekend, threatening to wash off the event.
The protestors intend to not only raise the issue of the abrogation of Article 370, and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir leading to gross human rights violations, they also plan to raise other issues of concern in India, like cow vigilantism, communal and ethnic violence, leading to hate crimes like lynching, replacement of indigenous people, police brutality, rising rape cases, caste-based discrimination, among others.
The stage has been set for the largest ever protest by the Indian diaspora on US soil, by author and activist Pieter Friedrich, who at a recent Houston council meeting, drew parallels between white supremacists in the USA and RSS, who he insisted are identical in their agenda. He made an impassioned plea to the members insisting that “Modi’s hands are stained with blood and those who shake his hand and welcome, cannot wash their hands of complicity in his crimes”, referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots, during which 2000 Muslims were massacred, women raped and children killed. This video of his, where he insisted that Houston should be saying Adios (bye-bye) Modi, instead of Howdy (Texan slang for How do you do) Modi, has since then gone viral.
Despite condemnation for these protestors back home, with allegations that efforts are being made not only to demean the Indian PM but their home country as well, these protesters refuse to be cowed down. They have been planning protests on US soil for months now, because according to them, besides the state-sponsored violence against minority groups, the Indian government and authorities are openly critical of human rights activists and organizations, while protecting vigilante groups. Counter-terrorism laws have been misused to silence free speech and threats of legal action or threats to family and loved ones have instilled a sense of fear amongst journalists.
According to a press statement issued by the protestors, organizations within India that would normally record and counter human rights violations have had their licenses revoked. Activists and academics have been threatened or jailed. This leaves the oppressed without a voice. Fears have also been expressed that if left unchecked, this could lead to mass-scale genocide.
Among those, who are protesting are members of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in USA, Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization, the local chapter of Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several others.
Meanwhile, no costs and no efforts have been spared to make the event to be held at the NPG grounds, Houston’s football stadium, a roaring success. Buses have been arranged to pick up a couple of thousand Indian students from the University of Texas, Dallas, besides the American Indian residents.
Houston (South East Texas) was probably chosen as a venue for the event, because of an estimated 1,40,000 Indians residing here and in surrounding counties, with another 200,000 Indians in Dallas and the rest of North Texas. Houston is also home to Ramesh Bhutada, the vice president of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the international wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who is the key figure in organizing the event.
These number of protesters, who had been planning for months, to raise the various issues of concern in India, grew exponentially after the lockdown in Kashmir, with several Kashmiris and Kashmir sympathizers joining in. The number swelled further since Trump gave his nod for the event.
Efforts are on to get as many congressmen involved in criticizing the Modi event. Republican Congressman Ro Khanna, recently got the Hindu right-wing groups riled up when he stated at a recent town hall meeting that “at this moment in our world, we desperately need political leaders to stand for pluralism, for tolerance, for respecting people of all faiths, and for human rights”.
Senator Bernie Sanders statement that “the communications blockade must be lifted immediately, and the United States government must speak out boldly in support of international humanitarian law and in support of a UN-backed peaceful resolution that respects the will of the Kashmiri people,” did not go well with these right-wing groups either, who immediately started a social media campaign to boycott democrat Sanders in the upcoming elections.
Texan Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee not only released a press statement, asking both the Indian American community and Pakistan American community to continue talks, she also wrote to the secretary of state Mike Pompei, asking him and the president to engage in a bilateral talk with both India and Pakistan. She stated that they are both equal in power and dignity, holding nuclear status, and the Kashmir crisis should be seen as an opportunity for dialogue and co-operation, not interference.
Another Democrat congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, too released a video statement condemning the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent lockdown, demanding that the US and UN speak up against the atrocities in the region.
The biggest shocker, however, came when the darling of the Hindu right-wingers here, Democrat congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an ardent supporter of Modi and funded heavily by the HSS, withdrew participation from the event, recently.
It is an irony that Modi’s rightwing policies, find a lot of support amongst American Indians, despite 84 % of Indian Americans voting for Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton in 2016, making them among the most Democratic-leaning ethnic groups. By joining Modi on stage, Trump probably hopes to swing some of those votes for himself and fellow Republicans in the next presidential elections.
Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, Photo collage By Yusra Jabeen, TIO