Dear President Butts:
As diverse Americans interested in the cause of nonviolence and reconciliation, we very much appreciate that SUNY is celebrating the legacy of M Gandhi by planting trees in a new garden on campus. However, we are deeply disturbed to read news reports that the university has invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate the garden later this month.
It would be truly shocking to provide the Prime Minister a public relations opportunity so soon following his dramatic restriction of human rights in Kashmir, since August 5, 2019. We are confident that with your background in faith-based civil rights and social justice work, you will be sensitive to these concerns.
Some Indians may welcome the Prime Minister, as like many nationalists, Mr. Modi is popular with his base. That does not change the fact that in power he promotes a form of Hindu nationalism that systematically disenfranchises minority communities throughout India. Under his leadership, India has descended into a dangerous and divisive politics that has consistently undermined both human rights and democracy. Mobs are organized to respond to alleged sectarian “offenses” and the Indian Supreme Court has warned that these “horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Surely, this does not align with the teachings of Gandhi.
In Assam, 1.9 million Indians have been stripped of citizenship; in Kashmir, since August, 800,000 Indian soldiers have kept eight million Kashmiris without freedom of movement, phone or internet service for the last month. Because of these and ongoing human rights abuses, children in Kashmir from kindergarten to college are unable to attend school. As one of your organization’s goals is to “ensure that young people survive and thrive,” please consider this statistic: In 2016 (the year the most recent data has been available), schools in Kashmir were open for only four months out of the year.
Finally, experts inside and outside of India have never cleared Prime Minister Modi of his role in the horrific 2002 sectarian massacres in Gujarat. As a result of his role, Modi was banned from entering the United States, the UK, and Canada for 10 years until he acquired diplomatic immunity by becoming India’s Prime Minister. This fact alone should have prevented SUNY from inviting this man.
President Butts, we sincerely ask that you rescind this honor to a problematic head of state and instead choose other Indians who are doing noble work on the grassroots level. There is a need to promote the legacy of Gandhi, just as we remember Dr. King. But this is surely not the way to do it.
This is clearly the wrong time for this publicly-funded American university to send a signal that insults students from the minority communities of India as well as Kashmiris living in New York. And it is always the wrong time to ignore human rights and compromise the cause of peace by inviting leaders to preside even while they lockdown and disenfranchise millions.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York
Adem Carroll, Flushing Interfaith Center
Hena Zuberi, FaithCoalition.org
Rev, Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church
Rosemarie Pace, for Pax Christi Metro New York
Robina Niaz, Executive Director and Founder, Turning Point for Women and Families (Affiliation for identification purposes only)
Rabbi Michael Feinberg
Helen Churko, Coach, Advisor and Speaker Advocate
Caroline Lane Amnesty International Group, Flushing NY
Fawzia Syed, Justice for All (Westbury, LI)
Sunita Viswanath, Hindus for Human Rights
Shah Haque, Executive Director, World Human Right Development USA
Salman Shah, Islamic Center of Long Island
Sabih Mir, Action for Civil Society in Kashmir
Mohammed Ahmed, Indian American Muslim Council
Wajahat Ali, Indian American Muslim Council
Misra Begum, Kashmir Global Council
Sonia Joseph, South Asia Solidarity Initiative
Faheem Butt, American Pakistanis Physicians of North America (NY)
Sarwar Faraz, Montgomery County Muslim Council
Mufti Nomaan Farooqi, Stand with Kashmir
Talha Khan, American Muslims For Democracy