LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A number of religious organizations are urging a congressman who oversees a subcommittee on Asia affairs not to participate in a rally that will honor India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Texas next week.
Organizers of the Sunday (Sept. 22) rally, dubbed “Howdy, Modi!,” said the gathering will “emphasize the shared values and aspirations” of the United States and India. On Monday, the group, Texas India Forum, announced that President Donald Trump would be in attendance, along with 50,000 attendees, at NRG Stadium in Houston.
But after U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from Sherman Oaks, California, sent a letter on Thursday to other members of Congress asking them to attend the event, as first reported by The Daily Beast, a group of Sikh, Muslim and Jewish organizations addressed a letter to Sherman urging him to not attend the rally and to discourage other Congress members from going.
The rally comes against a background of reports of rising violence and intimidation by Indian soldiers in Kashmir villages and harassment of locals by Muslim militants. On Aug. 5, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir of most of its semiautonomous status. A curfew was imposed and internet access was cut off.
“Many of our stakeholders and community members are concerned about the human rights violations that are occurring in Kashmir, some of whom have parents in Kashmir. United States citizens in California have been cut off from their loved ones, unable to reach them or know whether they are safe,” the groups said in their letter.
The letter, dated Thursday, was signed by the American Sikh Public Affairs Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other organizations. The interfaith group recommended that Sherman instead meet with the local Kashmiri American community.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Sherman, who serves as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Asia Subcommittee and co-chair of the Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said “it is my responsibility to treat foreign dignitaries with respect and to advise my colleagues of opportunities to meet and discuss issues with them.”
Sherman also tweeted that a “lunch in Houston is the only opportunity that Congress members will have to discuss Kashmir and other issues directly with Modi in the U.S.”
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA, an organization that includes Muslims across Southern California, thinks appearing at the rally would instead serve to endorse the prime minister's Kashmir policy.
“By associating with despots like Prime Minister Modi, Rep. Sherman and other members of Congress who attend this rally would legitimize his atrocities against Muslims and Kashmiris in India and disenfranchise local Kashmiri families,” Ayloush said in a statement.
Eugene Fields, a spokesman for CAIR-LA, said "Howdy, Modi!" is not the place to hold serious discussions about human rights issues.
Some restrictions have subsided in the Kashmir's most populous city, Srinagar. Students have been encouraged to return to school and businesses have been prompted to reopen, but rural residents say there’s a push of violence and intimidation that appears designed at suppressing any rebellion or dissent.
In an article Saturday, The Associated Press reported that in more than 50 interviews, residents in a dozen Kashmir villages said the military had raided their homes since India's government imposed the security crackdown Aug. 5.
They said the soldiers inflicted beatings and electric shocks, forced them to eat dirt or drink filthy water, poisoned their food supplies or killed livestock, and threatened to take away and marry their female relatives. Thousands of young men have been arrested. Other news reports have documented that Kashmiri separatists have been attacking Indians in the region in order to create chaos.
Sherman's office did not respond to requests for comment.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)