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(DV) Chatterji: How We Made the US Deny Visa to Modi







How We Made the US Deny Visa to Modi
by Angana Chatterji
March 21, 2005

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Nishrin Hussain lives in the United States. She is the daughter of Ahsanhusain A. Jafri of Gujarat, former Member of Parliament, who was tortured, decapitated, and murdered in 2002. The events of Gujarat 2002 have placed Nishrin in exile. Zaheera Sheik, who experienced the trauma of her family’s murder and was present for the Best Bakery ordeal, was coerced and intimidated by the Sangh Parivar. Bilkis Yakoob Rasool (Bilkis Bano) of Randhikpur village was gang-raped. She was five months pregnant at the time of her rape and lost 14 family members, including her three-year-old child, mother, and two sisters. Since then, she has been forced to move 20 times due to threats against her. These and other women of Gujarat live and relive the violence of 2002, their families and futures devastated.

Such realities compelled the formation of the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG). CAG was formed in February 2005 to protest the planned business visit to the US in March 2005 of Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, and demand accountability and justice in response to the Gujarat genocide. CAG is a spectrum of 38 organizations and 10 supporting groups, and individuals, across the US and Canada ( CAG utilizes several avenues, including grassroots mobilization, e-mail, phone and fax campaigns, public demonstrations, and draws from various constituencies -- students, those self-employed, professionals, academics, artists, people of/from India, and allies. CAG is comprised of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and those who profess other faiths or none. CAG challenges Modi supporters, primarily upper-caste Hindus, in the US who claim to represent Hindus and India, and others guided into buttressing Hindutva, “Hindu Tatva” -- “Hindu principles,” Nazi inspired, advocated by Hindu extremist groups dedicated to promoting a Hindu rashtra (theocracy) in India.

The Association of Indian Americans of North America (AINA) invited Narendra Modi to New York on March 20. Sangh members in the US formed AINA for this purpose. The Asian American Hotel Owner’s Association (AAHOA) invited Modi as chief guest for their annual convention in Florida on March 24-26. CAG called on Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, MSNBC, to decline the invitation to speak at the AAHOA Convention, and American Express to rescind its sponsorship of AAHOA. On March 8, Chris Matthews withdrew from the AAHOA event, giving up an estimated professional fee of thousands. The Institute on Religion and Public Policy wrote to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, some CAG members lobbied with Capitol Hill, and 125 South Asia Studies and other faculty in the US wrote to the state department, the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, and the United Nations, to decline Modi’s visa. Disturbingly, Modi was also invited to inaugurate the Yadunandan Centre for India Studies at the Asian and Asian American Studies Department of California State University at Long Beach on March 22, demonstrating once again the infiltration of Hindu nationalists into the academy. Again, 135 faculty wrote to the university asking it to rescind Modi’s invitation. Uka Solanki, a Gujarati businessman and recipient of the 2005 Global Organization of People of Indian Origin’s Pravasi Bharatiya Community Service Award, has given a large donation to the Asian American Studies Department and to the Centre for India Studies. University spokespersons so far have commented only that the request for Modi to inaugurate the Centre came from some donors.

Former President of India, K.R. Narayanan, recently testified to a “conspiracy” between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in New Delhi and Gujarat, where between February 28 and March 2, 2002, under Narendra Modi’s leadership, Hindu nationalists perpetrated an event distinctive in the movement’s malevolent reach for a Hindu state. In 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts, 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, 200,000 were internally displaced. In many districts, the violence continued beyond those three unimaginable days into April and May. Over 100,000 homes, thousands of hotels and establishments were damaged or destroyed. Relief camps were attacked at night. Narendra Modi and the Gujarat government enabled the genocidal violence. Appointed in 2001, Modi contested election as chief minister in December 2002, and won, in the climate of terror that prevailed in Hindu nationalist ruled Gujarat. An economic boycott against the Muslim community continues; 239 Muslims and one Sikh remain detained under Prevention Of Terrorism Act (POTA) even as the Indian Parliament repealed POTA in December 2004.

The events of February 28-March 2, 2002 constitute genocide under the United Nations Genocide Convention. Modi and the Gujarat government face charges for crimes against humanity and genocide. Inquiries and commissions, including the Indian National Human Rights Commission, have condemned Modi’s role in the politically motivated attacks on minorities. The interim report from the Justice U.C. Banerjee Commission has concluded that the fire in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, resulting in the deaths of 59 people, was an accident and not a "terrorist" attack on Hindu pilgrims as claimed by those who organized the carnage that followed.

Three years later, the survivors still await justice and reparations. Even as Muslims were the primary targets of violence in 2002, Christians were attacked and robbed during the post-Godhra riots. For those targeted, including dalits and adivasis, Narendra Modi, the architect of the state organized pogrom, is a monster whose words and deeds have endorsed rapes, the forced abortion of fetuses and their display on trishuls -- brutalities that irrevocably scar the present. More than 2,000 of 4,000 cases filed by the victims were never investigated or dismissed, leading the Supreme Court of India to transfer several out of the state. On February 23, 2005, an Ahmedabad court sentenced three persons to four years imprisonment for stabbing to death Naseembibi Safar Ali, a pregnant woman, on February 28, 2002, in Madhavpura, Ahmedabad. To find the male perpetrators guilty of murder and punish them with four-year sentences makes a mockery of justice and aligns the state, once again, with the sexualized violence that was Gujarat in 2002.

Modi is a pracharak (proselytiser) for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the xenophobic Hindu fundamentalist organization, which, along with other Hindu extremist groups, receives funds from the US and UK. Modi’s current trip to the US would have been a fundraising event. Sudhir Parikh, a prominent Indian and Sangh Parivar affiliate living in the US, invited Modi in 2004. Parikh is on the board of the Indian American National Foundation, an umbrella organization of AAHOA, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, National Federation of Indian American Associations, and Indian American Forum for Political Education. Other Hindu nationalists associated with hosting Modi’s New York visit include Suresh Jani, former secretary, Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP); Ved Nanda, Sanghchalak (chief), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas wing of the RSS, and former president of Friends of India Society International; and Mukund Mody, founder and former President of the OFBJP ( Research undertaken by two independent groups, the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and South Asia Watch Limited, demonstrate the linkages between money raised in the US and UK and Hindu fundamentalism in India, yet little has been done to curtail fundraising for hate.

There has been bi-partisan support in the US for human rights in Gujarat. Former President Clinton condemned the events in Gujarat. In 2002, Congressman Joseph Pitts (Republican-Pennsylvania) condemned the premeditated brutality and cited insufficient action on the part of the US. Congressman Pitts also conveyed that Hindu extremist groups receive some of their funds from charities in the US. In 2003 and 2004, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern.” On March 15, 2005, House Resolution 156 was introduced in the United States Congress by Congressperson John Conyers, ranking Democrat (Michigan), House Judiciary Committee, and Dean, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressperson Pitts, member, India Caucus and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, “condemning the conduct of Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his actions to incite religious persecution and urging the United States to condemn all violations of religious freedom in India.” On March 18, Modi was denied a diplomatic visa under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by the US embassy in New Delhi, as this was not a diplomatic visit, and his tourist and business visa was revoked under INA Section 212(a)(2)(G), “as an official responsible for carrying out severe violations of religious freedom,” under Section 3 of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Following this, AAHOA has withdrawn Modi’s invitation, and American Express has cancelled $150,000 in sponsorship money.

In response, militant workers of the Bajrang Dal set fire to a PepsiCo warehouse in Surat. Other acts of arson and aggression will likely follow. The Indian government must stop the cycle of violence and refuse to be held captive by Hindu nationalists. The Congress government has elected to interpret Washington’s decision as “anti-India.” How is upholding religious freedom, rule of law, and accountability in governance contrary to the interests of the nation? While the US continues to violate the rights of citizens in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, in this instance, Washington’s decision is supportive of human rights.

Indian jurist L.M. Singhvi has alleged that the US denied and revoked Narendra Modi’s visa without due process of law. It should be incumbent on the government of India to initiate due process of law investigating Modi’s role in executing the Gujarat massacre, as individual and chief minister of Gujarat. That Narendra Modi was denied a visa, that his active involvement in crimes against humanity has been officially noted, is something to celebrate. The larger task remains to hold accountable Narendra Modi, who has committed genocide.

Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies, and member, Coalition Against Genocide.

Other Recent Articles by Angana Chatterji

* Harsud Lost
* Hindu Nationalism and Orissa: Minorities As Other

* Learning in Saffron: RSS Schools in Orissa
* Orissa: A Gujarat in the Making
* State Repression in the Narmada Valley
* Orwellian Fantasy
* Under Siege in the Narmada Valley

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