September 20, 2015 | By Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI)
Mountain View, CA: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to tour Silicon Valley tech companies next week, marking his second visit to the United States in less than a year, his visit is meeting staunch opposition focused on his involvement in a 2002 genocide of Muslim minority.
In response to a scheduled meeting between Modi and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demonstrators turned out in front of the corporation’s San Francisco Bay Area headquarters on September 18 alongside semi-trucks bearing banners that asked the question on their minds: “Google, did you bother to google Modi before shaking hands with the Butcher of Gujarat?”
In 2005, the U.S. State Department banned Modi from entering the country due to “egregious religious freedom violations,” but upon becoming Prime Minister last year his ban was lifted due to diplomatic immunity. Demanding reestablishment of the ban at the demonstration, Bhajan Singh of Stockton, CA said Pichai will be “shaking hands with a monster.” Echoing that description of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician, Pieter Friedrich of Sacramento asked: “Mr. Prime Minister of India, why are you slipping a noose around the neck of Lady Liberty?”
Controversy has haunted Modi ever since a genocide of religious minorities took place shortly after his first election to executive office as Chief Minister of India’s western Gujarat state. In 2002, organized mobs took to the streets of Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad, to slaughter Muslims and Christians in response to a train fire that caused several dozen Hindu deaths. After the massacre, in which mobs torched religious sites and businesses, gang-raped women, and dismembered and burned alive thousands, Human Rights Watch reported: “The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.”
“We seek to reestablish Modi’s tarnished reputation,” said Jada Bernard of Oakland. Explaining that he is a Louisiana native, Bernard continued: “David Duke, a Grand Dragon of the KKK, became Governor of Louisiana to promote his white supremacist ideologies. Electing David Duke as Governor of Louisiana is no different from electing Modi as Prime Minister after what he did in Gujarat.”
Steve Macías of Roseville, who led chants of “Shame on Google, Shame on Modi,” also declared: “Modi needs to be given a trial, not a reception. Modi needs to be put in jail, not welcomed to Google. Modi needs to be imprisoned, not wined and dined by our American businesses.”
Speaking directly to CEO Pichai, Singh remarked: “You came here because this is a land of freedom and opportunity. Yet you are inviting a monster, a person who has committed genocide, a person who was banned from coming to the United States. You love American dollars but you hate American values.” Singh, the founding director of US-based human rights group Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), suggested a threat to religious liberty in India, saying: “Modi does not represent our value system. He is a monster who believes in forceful conversion and wants to convert the whole of India into one entity. What a shame on Google!”
Singh said he was referencing anti-conversion laws enforced in six Indian states, including Gujarat, which BJP leaders hope to use as a model for proposed national legislation. In June 2015, the Wall Street Journal warned that the laws, which typically require a person obtain government approval before switching religions, “might prohibit any conversions from Hinduism but be unlikely to act against radical groups who are forcing non-Hindus to convert to Hinduism.” Yet, last year, Indian Home Minister and former BJP President Rajnath Singh stated: “To check conversion, I think an anti-conversion law needs to be framed.” However, UN Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt, also last year, termed the laws a “disrespect of freedom of religion or belief,” and banners on the semi-trucks circling the Googleplex questioned: “Mr. Prime Minister, why does India criminalize freedom of religion?”
Gujarat’s anti-conversion law was passed in 2003, two years after Modi was elected Chief Minister. Friedrich took aim at the legislation, saying, “One of his first political accomplishments as an executive of Gujarat, before he became Prime Minister, was to pass a law which requires government regulation of religious conversion, denying people the right to convert to a religion of their choice without permission from the government.” Describing the 2002 massacres as “the Gujarat Genocide,” he also warned: “It is haunting Narendra Modi’s record, it will not go away, it will not be an issue that is allowed to rest until he answers for it. Narendra Modi has been implicated in staging this genocide against Muslims and Christians in Gujarat, India by the U.S. State Department, by Human Rights Watch, by members of his own administration, by police officers who served under him.”
“We should be locking the doors for Narendra Modi,” said Macías in between leading demonstrators in chants. “Until he recognizes the deaths of the thousands that have died in Gujarat, until he recognizes the human rights injustice of the anti-conversion laws, Narendra Modi should not be welcomed in this country, in California, in the home or business of any person that respects human dignity. What kind of company invites a murderer, a butcher, a monster to celebrate at their company headquarters? He is not a person to shake hands with. He is not a person to do business with. He represents policies that hurt and kill people for political agendas.”
The political agenda of the BJP, said Friedrich at the demonstration, is implicitly fascist. “The BJP is directly connected to a social organization called the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was founded around the time of World War II after its founders went to fascist Germany and to fascist Italy, met with the Nazis and the Italian fascists, and studied what those people were doing to oppress their own people and their own minority populations,” he explained. “Narendra Modi is a lifelong member of this all-male, uniformed, paramilitary organization that has millions of members throughout India and has been directly implicated in pogroms against Muslims, against Christians, against Sikhs, against all minority groups. We want to remember this connection that Modi has to the Nazi Party.”
Contrasting Modi’s human rights record with the U.S.’s Black Lives Matter movement, Bernard pondered: “If you’re going to start bringing in Hindu nationalists and their supremacist ideologies to this country, what else are you opening the door to, especially in such a time of unrest as this? When cop deaths are at an all-time low but police brutality is at an all-time high, when we are unhappy with Congress but for some reason they keep getting elected, when we have all these issues in our own politics, why would we bring the blood that is on Modi’s hands over here?”
“The New York Times put it correctly when it said that Modi has two faces,” commented Ram Singh of the American Sikh Council. “When he talks to foreign governments, he talks about development and democracy. When he goes home, he is a totally different Modi and his surrogates talk about reconverting everybody to Hinduism and openly say that everyone who is a citizen of India is a Hindu.”
Promising that this will not be the final word on the issue, Macías asked: “What would it say if Google invited Osama Bin Laden, what would it say if Google invited Saddam Hussein, what would it say if Google invited somebody like Adolf Hitler? That’s the type of monster we are talking about with Narendra Modi. Somebody who is guilty of a genocide against minorities and yet who is welcomed here with open arms.”
Modi’s visit to California includes plans to meet with a smorgasbord of corporate tech CEOs, including at Apple, Facebook, and Google, as well as a community reception on September 27 in San Jose which is expected to spark large-scale protests. OFMI, an affiliate of Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), says they hope to replicate the Googleplex protest when Modi arrives in California next week.