Earlier today, the audience of Rotary International Convention in Houston was addressed in a video message from Prime Minister Modi of India. As someone who has dedicated my life’s work to human rights and peace, I would be remiss if I did not publicly address his inclusion in the program.
In the eight years since Prime Minister Modi has taken power in India, human rights have come under systematic attack. Thousands of my colleagues at nonprofit organizations throughout India have been targeted by repressive foreign funding legislation. Many of those organizations operate on a shoestring budget and these prohibitive laws have forced them to cease operations in that country. Even Indian branches of well known human rights and environmental organizations such as Amnesty International India and Greenpeace India have had their permission to receive foreign funding revoked without just cause.
More problematic is the targeting of human rights defenders and journalists using sedition and anti-terrorism laws. The UN high commissioner for human rights and various UN human rights experts have repeatedly raised concerns in the last few years over shrinking space for civil society groups, and increased harassment and prosecution of human rights defenders and other critics. In November 2021, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested for his work investigating torture and enforced disappearances in Kashmir. He has now been arbitrarily imprisoned for over 150 days. Journalist Siddique Kappan and three of his colleagues were arrested and charged with anti-terrorism offenses and sedition for exposing the gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh. Siddique Kappan is also accused of speaking out against the police crackdown on protests in Delhi in 2020 against the controversial Citizenship Act, which provides for a "fast-track" citizenship process that specifically excludes Muslims.
Minorities, especially Muslims, are under constant attack by Hindu nationalists, supported by the Modi government. Violent, armed mobs regularly assault Muslims and openly call for their genocide, including the rape of Muslim women.
At a time when the world has condemned Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and Rotarians have responded with an unprecedented wave of compassion and support, the Modi government has abstained from all resolutions that might criticize the Russian aggression, and India continues economic and oil trade with Russia.
Rotary prides itself on being a “non-political” organization, but it is incumbent upon all of us to speak up when we see things that deviate from our mission. I was on an advisory team to select speakers for this years Rotary International Convention in Houston. Several of my friends and colleagues are speakers at this event. When Modi’s name was brought up I expressed my concerns about him immediately and I believe others shared my concerns.
Giving Prime Minister Modi a platform to speak to our global audience, even just in the form of a pre-recorded video, should not be seen as a tacit endorsement of his policies. Those of us that care about human rights and the dignity that should be afforded all people need to publicly condemn Modi’s presence at our International Convention, as well as his policy of repression of human rights. His inclusion is a betrayal of Rotary’s values and mission of providing service to others, promoting integrity, and advancing world understanding, goodwill, and peace.
BRIAN RUSCH Sunday, June 5, 2022 Rotary International Convention, Houston, Texas USA #Rotary22