Human-rights criticism mounts ahead of Indian PM’s visit

Human-rights criticism mounts ahead of Indian PM’s visit

Lawmakers have been criticizing India’s record on human rights just days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington next week.

In a hearing last week, multiple members of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee chided the world’s largest democracy for its “inconsistent” track record on halting human trafficking and “problems” dealing with religious freedom.

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On Wednesday, the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach Key Dem: Did Kushner use private emails to talk with foreign governments? Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting MORE (Md.), brought the message to India, calling on its leaders to “do better” during a speech in New Delhi.

“A country must respond to these challenges,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

The comments appear to be designed to put pressure on the Indian government ahead of Modi’s meeting with President Obama next Tuesday and a speech before a joint session of Congress the day after. 

On Tuesday, as Modi and Obama are set to meet, a special House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on human rights in India, with a special focus on “untouchable” religious minorities and crackdowns on civil society by the Indian government.

“[A] wide variety of serious human rights concerns persist,” Tom Lantos of the Human Rights Commission said in announcing the Tuesday afternoon hearing.  

The focus is not going unnoticed by India, which appears to be irked at the criticism.

“We don’t believe that any society has a right to preach to another society about what it should do or not do,” Ambassador Arun Singh told reporters during a luncheon at the Indian Embassy in Washington on Wednesday.

“We don’t accept that somebody should say, ‘I have now come to set judgment on you, that we will tell you what you’re doing wrong and what you’re going to do,’” he added. “Because we think that nobody is in a position to do that.

“All societies face their own forms of discrimination and challenges.”

The House hearing could be especially troubling for the Indian leader if it offers a contrasting image for news cameras as Modi meets with Obama.

“Normally in India we would not want to embarrass somebody when they are our guest,” Singh said. “But I guess each society is different.”

The frank rebuttal to the U.S.’s criticism is notable for a foreign diplomat, who would usually try to avoid the limelight.

In its most recent annual report on human rights, the State Department claimed that Indian security forces have abused their positions, resulting in “widespread” corruption, among other findings. 

The 2016 Global Slavery Index, released on Wednesday, claimed that more than 18 million people are living in modern slavery in India, well more than any other country.

“It’s a huge challenge in this massive country to deal with the issues of uniform capacity and capability to address the rights of every individual citizen,” Nisha Desai Biswal, the assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs, testified in the Senate last week. 

“We do think that there's a lot more than can and should be done to address issues of trafficking and child labor.”