Eleven members of the U.S. Congress have urged President Barack Obama to inject a discussion about religious tolerance and the protection of minorities into his bilateral summit with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and Tuesday.
In a formal letter to the President, the bipartisan Congressional group said, “Your meeting with [Mr.] Modi… provides an opportunity to discuss religious inclusion and the protection of religious minorities in India,” adding that the Indian Prime Minister’s visit could open a dialogue about the “positive steps his government can take in preventing oppression and encouraging religious inclusion.”
A twelfth lawmaker, Mike Honda from California, wrote an individual letter to Mr. Obama along similar lines, urging him to reinforce human rights and religious freedoms through increased attention and dialogue, but also underscoring that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2014 Annual Report noted that “in the past year, reports of incidents of communal and religiously-motivated violence in India increased.”
The Congressmen, who signed the letter, including Keith Ellison, Joseph Pitts, John Conyers, Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee, Betty McCollum, Jim Sensenbrenner, Jared Polis, Trent Franks, James McGovern and Rush Holt, also alluded to “an increase in violence against Muslims and Christians in the first hundred days of Prime Minister Modi’s term,” adding that this “echoes the deadly 2002 riots in Gujarat, which happened while Prime Minister Modi was Chief Minister of the region.”
They said that Mr. Modi had made positive remarks after winning the general election earlier this year, when he suggested that his government’s only religion would be “India first.”
While this statement was promising, the members of Congress said, “Given the reported increase in violence against Christians and Muslims, the reality on the ground in India’s communities indicates that this promise must be followed by action.”
Highlighting Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach to civil disobedience as an example of our shared belief in democratic values between India and the U.S., the members of Congress said that such values included, foremost, the tolerance of minority groups.
“Prime Minister Modi can play a constructive role by criticising extremists and opening a dialogue in the country about violence aimed at religious minorities,” in this regard, they noted.
Coalition Against Genocide, an alliance of human rights groups campaigning for justice and accountability for the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 said that it welcomed the lawmakers’ letter to Mr. Obama.