CHICAGO, IL, USA—On the heels of news that U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) will chair the 2018 World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago, the Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) has issued Rep. Gabbard an open letter urging her to end her relationship with groups that promote Hindu nationalism.
The WHC will be hosted by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a subsidiary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Mohan Bhagat, the current Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of the RSS, will keynote the conference. Invitations have also been extended to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ideologically affiliated with the RSS and VHP. The organizations are collectively known as the “Sangh Parivar.”
Gabbard’s relationship with Modi extends back to his inauguration as prime minister in May 2014, when she issued a press statement announcing, “I recently spoke with Narendra Modi by phone and congratulated him and the Bharatiya Janata party for winning.” She has met with Modi on at least four occasions since, including September 2014 in New York, December 2014 in India (a trip which she made at his personal invitation), September 2015 in California, and June 2016 in Washington, D.C.
She is known for her vocal opposition to attempts by U.S. government officials to take action against allegations of human rights atrocities by Modi and other Sangh Parivar affiliates. In 2014, she condemned the U.S. State Department for its decision to deny Modi a visa based on his involvement in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” In 2015, she denounced House Resolution 417, a bipartisan call for the annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue to focus on “religious freedom and related human rights.”
The text of OFMI’s open letter to Gabbard follows:
While we had appreciated in the past your clear-eyed stance against military adventurism abroad viz. the Iraq War, we are puzzled by your lack of similar concern about the rising militantism in India — another nation with which you have significant involvement. No doubt you must be aware that while extremism and militarism are growing world-wide, India is not an exception. Violent fascist groups who murder Christians and other minorities have seized power.
Perhaps you remember the tragic killing of Graham Staines and his two sons? On January 23, 1999, extremist Hindu nationalists in India attacked the Christian pastor and burned him to death in his car along with his two sons (aged 6 and 10). In 2018, religious freedom watchdog group Open Doors USA ranked India as the 11th most dangerous country in the world for Christians.
Staines was murdered by members of a branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which currently rules India. These groups are collectively known as the “Sangh Parivar.” AS USCIRF (United States Commission on Religious Freedom) reported in 2003, “Violence against religious minorities has coincided with the rise in political influence of groups associated with the Sangh Parivar, a collection of Hindu extremist nationalist organizations that view non-Hindus as foreign to India.”
We are growing alarmed after witnessing your continuous and earnest relationship with leading figures of the Sangh Parivar here in the U.S. In September 2018, you will visit Chicago to share the stage with RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat at the World Hindu Congress. Mr. Bhagwat is very open that the goal of the RSS is to turn India into a Hindu nation. The RSS makes no apologies for its frequent violence against religious minorities. While the Staines family was killed in 1999, their deaths have been often replicated since then, sometimes as massacres.
In 2002, while Narendra Modi was the head of State of Gujarat, horrible pogroms took place against the Muslims. USCIRF calls the BJP “a political party associated with a group of Hindu extremist nationalist organizations that had been implicated in growing violence against religious minorities in the country and the killing of as many as 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002.” The USCIRF also reported, “India’s National Human Rights Commission, an official body, found evidence of premeditation in the killings by members of Hindu extremist groups; complicity by Gujarat state government officials; and police inaction in the midst of attacks on Muslims. Christians were also victims in Gujarat, and many churches were destroyed.”
Now Mr. Modi is Prime Minister of India. You have met Mr. Modi on several occasions. Your praise for him is overflowing. In 2014, after he became prime minister, you called Modi “a leader whose example and dedication to the people he serves should be an inspiration to elected officials everywhere.” Your plans to also share the stage with Mohan Bhagwat indicate not just your tolerance but also your acceptance and appreciation for the Sangh Parivar’s activities. We are disappointed by your support for fascist organizations which victimize the most marginalized and vulnerable citizens of India, including Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Muslims, and Sikhs.
The mission of the people of Hawai’i is well stated in its motto, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono” — “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Can one stand for righteousness while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the fascist element of Hindu nationalists of India? We implore you to reconsider your friendship with such entities that stand against Hawaiian and American principles.