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Biden urged to raise religious freedom in India as Prime Minister Modi begins United States visit

by Premier Journalist

Dozens of U.S. President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats have urged him to raise human rights issues with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Washington this week, as Manipur’s Christian community complain about Modi’s silence on the breakdown of order in the north-eastern state.

In their letter to the President, the U.S. lawmakers said they were concerned about religious intolerance, press freedoms, internet access and the targeting of civil society groups.

Modi joined diplomats and dignitaries for a morning yoga session at the United Nations in New York City at the start of a visit projected as a milestone in ties between the two countries.

Mr Modi praised yoga as "truly universal" - an activity for all ages, and accessible to all faiths and cultures.

But he leaves behind an unresolved conflict in Manipur which has seen 50,000 people made homeless or internally displaced, together with over 300 churches burned down in communal violence, with hundreds of Christian tribal villages destroyed and 100 people estimated dead.

"A series of independent, credible reports reflect troubling signs in India toward the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organizations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access," the lawmakers wrote.

A total of 75 Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives added their names to the letter, which was sent to the White House on Tuesday.

Last week, the Catholic Archbishop of Manipur’s capital Imphal issued a highly critical assessment of the failure to restore order in the state:

"The government of the day has failed in reining in the violence. Silence from the Prime Minister, the cluelessness of the Home Minister even after his visit to the State, the indecisiveness of the State government to put a stop to the violence is worrying. It cannot shun responsibility and shed off culpability."

Archbishop Dominic Lumon said that organized attacks in Manipur could not ‘just happen unless it was premeditated and planned’ and that the ‘targets of attack also smacked of fanatic elements out to disrupt the existence of Christianity, in the pretext of preservation of culture’.

Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit, despite concerns over what is seen as a deteriorating human rights situation under his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi’s trip to Washington includes a state dinner at the White House and he will address a joint meeting of the House and Senate on Thursday, one of the highest honours Washington affords to foreign dignitaries.


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