Editor’s Note: Sarah Philips is a 21-year-old organizer with AZAAD Austin and a member of South Asian Youth in Houston Unite. She’s a fourth-year studying Asian American Studies and Government at the University of Texas at Austin. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
This Sunday, President Donald Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi are sharing a stage in my hometown of Houston, Texas, at an event named “Howdy, Modi”. This is Modi’s first trip to the US since his reelection earlier this year, and it comes at a time when he and Trump are looking to forge stronger ties and trade relations between the US and India.
While tens of thousands of Indian Americans are expected to welcome the prime minister inside the NRG stadium alongside local officials, members of Congress, and other politicians, I’ll be outside protesting with many others as we bid adios to Modi.
It’s shameful to see the prime minister being enthusiastically welcomed in the city I know and love under the guise of multiculturalism and inclusion – especially when Modi has stoked Hindu nationalist sentiments since he was first elected in 2014.
I’m a third-generation Indian American raised in Houston’s Indian Christian community. My ammachis, or my grandmothers, immigrated to Texas from Kerala, India, in search of nursing jobs in the 1970s and established their lives in this city alongside other Indian immigrant families.
The South Asian community in Texas is a multi-religious and multi-racial community. We are queer, trans, and gender non-conforming. We are undocumented and working-class people. We trace our families back to different countries in South Asia, as well as to Africa and the Caribbean. And we are part of the reason that Houston is known to be one of the most diverse cities in America.
Instead of embracing Modi, we should be holding him accountable for the horrific human rights abuses happening all across India, and especially in Kashmir right now.
Modi’s government revoked Kashmir’s special status on August 5, and a communications blackout has been in place ever since, with reports of mass raids, arrests, and torture. In Assam in the northeast of India, 1.9 million people, many of them Muslim, women, and poor, could lose their citizenship status. Since Modi came into power, Dalits, who have long endured caste discrimination, and religious minorities have faced higher levels of persecution. Human rights advocates are reporting an increase in rhetoric spurring mob violence from cow protection groups targeting Muslims and other minorities. It is also heartbreaking to see fellow Christians in India facing violence and discrimination, given our long history there.
All of this is consistent with Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist agenda, which seeks to prioritize the rights of Hindus and diminish the rights of others. Modi and his ruling party have incited hate, violence and discrimination against religious minorities and marginalized people across India, including Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians.
This strategy should sound familiar, because Hindu nationalism is similar to another form of hate that we have long been confronting here in the United States: white supremacy. White supremacists in this country wish to exclude Black, Native, Muslim, and non-white immigrant communities from the United States. President Trump’s rhetoric and policies, from the border wall to the Muslim ban, are rooted in white supremacist ideology.
That is why we must oppose Modi and Trump and reject both Hindu nationalism and white supremacy. Indian Americans, in particular, cannot on the one hand protest the family separation policy and the Muslim ban under the Trump administration, while supporting the Modi government’s anti-Muslim, or anti-Dalit rhetoric in India. Indeed, the “Howdy Modi” event has reaffirmed the hypocrisy in my own community. If we were truly committed to acceptance and liberation, then we could not possibly celebrate a leader who supports Islamophobia and caste apartheid.
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I’m coming of age at a time when fascism and ethnonationalism are on the rise across the world. Trump and Modi are two sides of the same coin – they’re both authoritarian leaders who intimidate and exclude marginalized communities, chill the free press, and champion fake news and propaganda to whitewash their atrocities.
This weekend, South Asians in Houston will not be silent and simply accept the spectacle of Modi and Trump together on a stage. We will join protesters of all backgrounds and faiths to send a message to people around the world, including the people of Kashmir, that we will not celebrate or welcome those who violate human rights here at home or in our countries of origin. We offer a different narrative: one based in the liberation of all people, from Houston to Kashmir.