Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Indian Peninsula’

Religious freedom watchdog pitches adding India to blacklist

April 29, 2020

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that the State Department add India to its list of nations with uniquely poor records on protecting freedom to worship — while proposing to remove Sudan and Uzbekistan from that list.

The bipartisan commission, created in 1998 by Congress to make policy recommendations about global religious freedom, proposed designating India as a “country of particular concern” in the annual report it released Tuesday. That lower ranking for a long-running U.S. ally amounts to a stark show of disapproval of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which has sparked broad worries about disenfranchisement of Muslims.

President Donald Trump declined to criticize the citizenship measure during his February visit to India, where his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was punctuated by skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims.

The commission, by contrast, is empowered as an independent arbiter to look only at nations’ religious freedom records, apart from their relationship with the United States, vice chair Nadine Maenza said.

Beyond the citizenship law, Maenza said in an interview, India has a broader “move toward clamping down on religious minorities that’s really troublesome.” A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, responded to the report with a statement blasting the commission’s “biased and tendentious comments against” that nation. Noting that some members dissented from the commission’s decision to recommend India for the lowest ranking of religious freedom protections, Srivastava appeared to use the commission’s internal terminology as a dig.

“We regard (the commission) as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he said. In the cases of Sudan and Uzbekistan, the Trump administration got out ahead of the commission in raising its ranking of religious freedom protections. The State Department decided in December to no longer rank Sudan as a nation “of particular concern” after having taken Uzbekistan off the list earlier.

Following last year’s military ouster of authoritarian leader, Omar al-Bashir, new Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with the commission and committed to improve religious freedom, Maenza said.

Among the other significant recommendations in Tuesday’s report was a call for the U.S. government to “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria.” Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria last fall sparked broad concern about resulting threats to religious minorities in the region.

The commission proposed four other nations join India in the ranks of most egregious religious freedom offenders; Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The State Department’s current list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom includes China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

Inclusion among the nations with the poorest religious freedom records can lead to new sanctions, although the executive branch is also empowered to rely on already-imposed sanctions or issue a waiver.

Sudan and Uzbekistan are currently on a State Department watch list for nations where religious freedom infringement is not as widespread, constant and significant as those in the lowest-ranked tier.

The commission’s latest annual report recommends the addition of 11 more nations that the State Department has not yet put on that watch list: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Turkey.

Associated Press writer Emily Schmall contributed from New Delhi.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

India reopens stores, speeding easing of virus lockdowns

April 25, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — A tentative easing around the world of coronavirus lockdowns gathered pace Saturday with the reopening in India of neighborhood stores that many of the country’s 1.3 billion people rely on for everything from cold drinks to mobile phone data cards.

The relaxation of the super-strict Indian lockdown came with major caveats. It did not apply to hundreds of quarantined towns and other hotspots that have been hit hardest by the outbreak that has killed at least 775 people in India and terrified its multitudes of poor who live hand-to-mouth in slum conditions too crowded for social distancing.

Shopping malls also remained closed across the country. Still, for families that run small stores, being able to reopen and earn again brought relief. “This is a good decision,” said Amit Sharma, an architect. “We have to open a few things and let the economy start moving. The poor people should have some source of income. This virus is going to be a long-term problem.”

Last week, India also allowed manufacturing and farming activities to resume in rural areas to ease the economic plight of millions of daily wage-earners left without work by the country’s lockdown imposed March 24. India’s stay-home restrictions have allowed people out of their homes only to buy food, medicine or other essentials.

Elsewhere in Asia, authorities on Saturday reported no new deaths for the 10th straight day in China, where the virus originated. And South Korea reported just 10 fresh cases, the eighth day in a row its daily jump came below 20. There were no new deaths for the second straight day.

In Sri Lanka, however, the lockdown was tightened, not eased, confirming a pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-back also seen elsewhere as countries battle the pandemic, trying to juggle public health against the health of shut-down economies.

Sri Lanka had partially lifted a monthlong curfew during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country. But it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown countrywide after a surge Friday of 46 new infections, the highest increase in a day on the Indian Ocean island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.

The U.S. states of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska also began loosening lockdown orders on their pandemic-wounded businesses, even as the confirmed U.S. death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000 and despite warnings from health experts that such steps may be coming too early.

In Europe, Belgium announced that after May 3, hospitals will progressively open to some nonessential tasks. In France, the government is preparing to gingerly ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns from May 11.

Denmark has reopened schools for the youngest grades. Kids in Spain will get their first fresh air in weeks on Sunday when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed. Without a tried-and-tested action plan for how to pull countries out of coronavirus lockdown, the world is seeing a patchwork of approaches. Schools reopen in one country, stay closed in others; face masks are mandatory in some places, a recommendation elsewhere.

Britain was still holding off on changes to its lockdown as the coronavirus-related death toll in hospitals was on target to surge past 20,000. It’s the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, each of which has reported more than 20,000 deaths.

In the U.S., Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. Some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States and beyond as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically devastating lockdown orders.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities such as golf and motorized boating. Michigan has nearly 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey.

During a White House press briefing Friday, President Donald Trump spoke optimistically of the economy but also asked people to continue social distancing and using face coverings. The same day, Trump signed a $484 billion bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the pandemic. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

Trump also said his widely criticized comments suggesting people can ingest or inject disinfectant to fight COVID-19 were an attempt at sarcasm. The coronavirus has killed more than 190,000 people worldwide, including — as of Friday — more than 50,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Amy Pembrook and her husband, Mike, reopened their hair salon in the northwest Oklahoma town of Fairview after it had been shuttered for about a month. “We’re super excited about going back, but we have caught a little flak from people who say it’s too early,” Amy Pembrook said. “We just said we can live in fear for a long time or we can trust that everything is going to be OK.”

Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.

Islamophobia after large cluster affects India’s virus fight

April 25, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government is blaming an Islamic missionary meeting for a surge in coronavirus cases, triggering a wave of violence, business boycotts and hate speech toward Muslims that experts warn could worsen the pandemic in the world’s second-most populous country.

The stigma faced by India’s Muslims, poorer and with less access to health care than other groups, is making health workers’ battle against the virus even tougher, according to veterans of other epidemics. India has about 24,500 confirmed coronavirus cases — about one in five of which have been linked to the missionary meeting — and 775 deaths, and the outbreak may not peak until June.

“Not only is the (Muslim) community at a higher risk of being infected, but they will also be at a high risk of spreading the virus,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health expert. “It becomes a cycle that will continue.”

About 8,000 people in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation met for three days in March at the group’s compound in the crowded Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, shortly before the Indian government banned large gatherings. The compound stayed open, later giving shelter to people stranded in a 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, according to the group’s spokesman, Mujeeb ur Rehman.

On the second day of the lockdown, a government raid on the compound discovered the largest virus cluster in India. Police filed a case against some of the group’s leaders for violating the ban, a charge the group denies. Officials said Tuesday they have arrested 29 people, including 16 foreigners, who participated in the missionary meeting.

India’s communal fault lines, still stressed by deadly riots over a new naturalization law that excludes Muslims, were split wide open by the allegations against Jamaat. Politicians in Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party were quoted on TV and in newspapers describing the Jamaat incident as “corona terrorism.”

False news targeting Muslims began to circulate, including video clips purportedly showing congregation members spitting on authorities. The clips were quickly proven to be fake, yet by April 1, the hashtag “CoronaJihad” was trending on Twitter in India.

Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary of India’s health ministry, repeatedly called out the congregation by name in daily news briefings. On April 5, he said the number of virus cases was doubling in just 4.1 days, and would have been a slower 7.4 days “if the additional … cases due to the Tablighi Jamaat meeting would not have arisen.”

That same day, Dilshad Mohammad took his life. Panic, blame and stigma were spreading across India when the 37-year-old chicken peddler was shunned by his neighbors in Bangarh, a village in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, for giving two members of the Jamaat congregation a ride to their village on his scooter. Neighbors accused him of deliberately trying to infect them with the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Karthikeyan Gokulachandran, the district police superintendent, blamed his suicide on stigma. In Rajasthan state, a pregnant Muslim woman was turned away from a public hospital because of her religion, resulting in the death of her 7-month-old fetus, said Vishvendra Singh, the state’s tourism minister.

In Uttarakhand, Hindu youths forced Muslim fruit vendors to stop selling. Shots were fired at a mosque in Gurugram, a suburb of New Delhi, and a Muslim family in the neighboring state of Haryana was attacked by neighbors who accused them of not turning off their lights on April 9, the night Modi had asked the country to extinguish household lights for 15 minutes in a show of national unity.

Doctors who studied previous epidemics warn that stigma and blame for a contagious disease weaken trust in marginalized communities, threatening decades-long efforts against illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis by making people less likely to seek treatment.

Stigma in general is adding to India’s coronavirus death toll, said Dr. Randeep Guleria, head of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi and among the architects of the country’s response.

“It is actually causing increasing morbidity and mortality. Because of the stigma that is happening, many patients who have COVID-19 or who have flu-like symptoms are not coming forward,” he said. Muslims were already at a disadvantage when the coronavirus entered India.

India’s 200 million Muslims account for 14% of the population and are the largest minority group in the Hindu-majority nation and also the poorest, surviving on an average of 32.6 rupees ($0.43) per day, a 2013 government survey found.

Muslims also have less access to health care. About 40% of villages with large Muslims populations don’t have medical facilities, a government report in 2006 said. The government in Maharahstra — the state with the biggest concentration of coronavirus cases — said Muslim-majority areas had a “paucity of health facilities” in a 2013 report. It said the “threat of communal riots” forced Muslims to “live together in slums and ghettos” where social distancing is often impossible.

In deeply polarized India, some Modi critics have suggested that the government singled out the Jamaat congregation for strategic reasons. The “vilification of Muslims was done to hide the government’s mismanagement in dealing with the virus and their callousness,” said Professor Tanweer Fazal, a sociologist at the University of Hyderabad.

Aggarwal, the health ministry spokesman, declined to respond. On Sunday, Modi tweeted that the coronavirus does not discriminate based on race, religion or creed. “Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together,” he said.

His remarks came hours after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s human rights body condemned the “unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for spread of COVID-19.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

India hangs 4 men convicted for fatal New Delhi gang rape

March 20, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — Four men sentenced to death for the gruesome gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012 were hanged Friday, concluding a case that exposed the scope of sexual violence in India and prompted horrified Indians to demand swift justice.

The four stood trial relatively quickly in India’s slow-moving justice system, their convictions and sentences handed down less than a year after the crime. India’s top court upheld the verdicts in 2017, finding the men’s crimes had created a “tsunami of shock” among Indians.

“The four convicts were hanged together at 5.30 a.m.,” said Sandeep Goel, head of the Tihar Jail in New Delhi. The victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, was heading home with a male friend from a movie theater when six men tricked into getting on a private bus. With no one else in sight, they beat her friend and repeatedly raped the woman. They penetrated her with a metal rod, causing fatal internal injuries. They dumped both victims on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later.

Asha Devi, the mother of the victim, thanked the judiciary and government after the convicts were hanged. “Today, we got justice and this day is dedicated to the daughters of the country,” she told reporters. “I could not protect her but I was able to fight for her.”

Devi said she hoped that courts in India will end delays in rape cases and punish convicts within a year’s time. The case drew international attention at the time and prompted Indian lawmakers to stiffen penalties for rape, part of a wave of changes as India confronted its appalling treatment of women.

Facing public protests and political pressure after the attack, the government reformed some of India’s antiquated laws on sexual violence and created fast-track courts for handling rape trials that formerly could last more than a decade.

The new laws prescribed harsher punishments for rapists and addressed new crimes, including acid throwing and stalking. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday that justice had prevailed and it was of utmost importance to ensure the dignity and safety of women.

“Together, we have to build a nation where the focus is on women empowerment, where there is emphasis on equality and opportunity,” he said on his Twitter account. Hundreds of police were deployed outside the jail to control a crowd that waited to celebrate the executions. Dozens of people held placards hailing the hangings. The crowd chanted slogans like “Justice for women” and cheered by clapping and blowing whistles.

Another suspect had hanged himself in prison before his trial began, though his family insists he was killed. The sixth assailant was a minor at the time of the attack and served three years in juvenile detention.

Amnesty International India condemned Friday’s executions, saying they “mark a disheartening development.” It called again for India to abolish the death penalty. “There is no evidence that the punishment acted as a particular deterrent to the crime and will eradicate violence against women,” the group said in a statement.

The executions were carried out as two recent attacks renew attention to the problem of sexual violence in India. Activists say new sentencing requirements haven’t deterred rape, with Indian government data showing police registered almost 34,000 cases in 2018.

The real figure is believed to be far higher since stigma surrounding sexual violence keeps victims from reporting their attacks to police.

Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

February 28, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India’s capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 40 dead and hundreds injured.

Five days after they started, it was still unclear exactly what sparked the riots — the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades — and the death toll at hospitals was continuing to rise. “If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion,” said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.

Tensions between Hindu hard-liners and Muslims protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s Hindu-first policies had been building for months when the violence exploded Sunday night, on the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally Sunday that police shut down a Muslim-led protest in the city or else he and his followers would do it themselves.

And it appears they did. Hindus and Muslims attacked each other with guns and swords, metal rods and axes, leaving the streets where the rioting occurred resembling a war zone. There was a heavy police presence in the neighborhood on Friday. On one riot-torn street, Hindus shouted “Jai Shri Ram,” or Long Live Ram, the Hindu god, as Muslims attempted to reach a mosque damaged in the riots.

Several Muslim residents told The Associated Press that most Muslim families had locked up their homes and fled the area. The passage of a citizenship law in December that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities from neighboring countries but not Muslims earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead.

The protest violence is the latest in a long line of periodic communal clashes that date to the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when the country was split into secular, Hindu-majority India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.

The protection of India’s religious, cultural and linguistic diversity is enshrined in its constitution. But communal tensions have occasionally flared into deadly riots, beginning with partition itself, when Hindus living in what is now Pakistan migrated to India, and Muslims in modern India to Pakistan.

Clashes claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people of other religions. This week’s death toll marked the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.

In 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists razed a 16th-century mosque in northern India, claiming that it stood on Ram’s birthplace. Nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country in the riots that followed.

The religious polarization that followed saw Modi’s right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as the single largest party in India’s Parliament. In 2002, the western Indian state of Gujarat erupted in violence when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the state.

Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time. He was accused of tacit support for the rampage against Muslims, but a court ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing. Violent large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims last took place in New Delhi in 2014, months after Modi’s party came to power, in a largely poor neighborhood close to where this week’s rioting occurred. That violence left three dozen people injured.

Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who wrote a book about Indian riots, said the worst has been averted — at least for now. “If it had reached the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002, it would have doomed Indian politics for many years to come and brought India closer to the kind of Hindu-Muslim polarization that the current ruling party would ideally want, but is finding it hard to manufacture,” Varshney said.

BJP leaders, who have sought to demonize Muslim protesters as a threat to India, may see some gain from the violence, Varshney said. But it comes at a cost, the international perception that India under Modi has become ungovernable, he said.

Government spokesman Raveesh Kumar denied the Modi government had inflamed religious tensions in India and failed to protect minority Muslims. “These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicizing the issue,” he said. “Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy.”

He added that Modi had “publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood.” “We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time,” he said.

Death toll rises to 24 from Delhi riots during Trump trip

February 26, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — At least 24 people were killed and 189 injured in three days of clashes in New Delhi that coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded, authorities said Wednesday.

Shops, Muslim shrines and public vehicles were left smoldering from violence between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam.

Twenty-four deaths were reported at two hospitals in New Delhi, officials said. The clashes were the worst communal riots in the Indian capital in decades. The law’s passage in December earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead, many of them killed by police.

The dead in this week’s violence included a policeman and an intelligence bureau officer, and the government has banned public assembly in the affected areas. Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said 106 people were arrested for alleged involvement in the rioting.

Officials reported no new violence Wednesday as large police reinforcements patrolled the areas, where an uneasy calm prevailed. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval toured the northeastern neighborhoods of Delhi where the rioting occurred, seeking to assure fear-stricken residents including a female student who complained that police had not protected them from mobs who vandalized the area and set shops and vehicles on fire.

While clashes wracked parts of the capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a lavish reception for Trump, including a rally in his home state of Gujarat attended by more than 100,000 people and the signing of an agreement to purchase more than $3 billion of American military hardware.

On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the violence, tweeting that “peace and harmony are central to (India’s) ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.”

New Delhi’s top elected official, Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal, called for Modi’s home minister, Amit Shah, to send the army to ensure peace. Police characterized the situation as tense but under control. Schools remained closed.

Sonia Gandhi, a leader of the Congress party, India’s main opposition group, called for Shah to resign. She accused Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of creating an environment of hatred and its leaders of inciting violence with provocative speeches that sought to paint Muslim protesters against the citizenship law as anti-nationalists funded by Pakistan.

New Delhi’s High Court ordered the police to review videos of hate speeches allegedly made by three leaders of Modi’s party and decide whether to prosecute them, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The clashes escalated Tuesday, according to Rouf Khan, a resident of Mustafabad, an area in the capital’s northeast. Khan said mobs with iron rods, bricks and bamboo sticks attacked the homes of Muslims while chanting “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Victory to Lord Ram,” the popular Hindu god of the religious epic “Ramayana.”

As Air Force One flew Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in the city’s northeast, praying that Hindu mobs wouldn’t burn it down. “After forcing their way inside the homes, they went on a rampage and started beating people and breaking household items,” Khan said of the mobs, adding that he and his family had to run and take shelter inside a mosque that he said was guarded by thousands of Muslim men.

“I don’t know if our house was burned or not, but when we were running away we heard them asking people to pour kerosene and burn everything down,” Khan said. Some of the dead had bullet wounds, according to Dr. Sunil Kumar, medical director of the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.

Others came to the hospital with gunshot and stab wounds and head injuries. Among them was Mohammad Sameer, 17, who was being treated for a gunshot wound to his chest Wednesday at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.

Speaking to The Associated Press after having an operation, Sameer said he was standing on his family’s apartment terrace watching Hindu mobs enter Mustafabad when he was shot in the chest. “When Sameer was shot, I took him on my shoulders and ran downstairs,” said the boy’s father, Mohammad Akram. “But when the mob saw us, they beat me and my injured son. He was bleeding very badly. While they were beating with sticks, they kept on chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans and threatened to barge inside our homes.”

Akram said he managed to get his son into a vehicle, but they were stopped several times by Hindus demanding they pull their pants down to show whether they were circumcised before they managed to escape from the area and reach the emergency room. Muslims are generally circumcised, while Hindus are not.

In Kardampura, a Muslim-majority area where a youth was shot and killed on Monday, hundreds of police personnel in riot gear patrolled the area and asked people to stay indoors, while residents said they were living in fear.

“We are scared and don’t know where to go,” said one resident, Dr. Jeevan Ali Khan. “If the government wanted, they could have stopped these riots.” Close by, black smoke still rose on Wednesday afternoon from a market that sold tires and second-hand car parts in Gokalpuri as fireman tried to douse the smoldering fire.

The violence drew sharp reactions from U.S. lawmakers, with Rep. Rashida Talib, a Democrat from Michigan, tweeting, “This week, Trump visited India but the real story should be the communal violence targeting Muslims in Delhi right now.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the killing of Muslims, saying: “Now 200 million Muslims in India are being targeted. The world community must act now.” Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had heard about the violence but had not discussed it with Modi. Instead, Trump gloated about his reception in India.

India has been rocked by violence since Parliament approved the citizenship law in December. Opponents have said the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test, but Trump declined to comment on it.

“I don’t want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they’re going to make the right decision for the people,” he said. It was the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.

In 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists razed a 16th-century mosque in northern India, claiming that it stood on the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. Nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country in the riots that followed.

The religious polarization that followed saw the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as the single largest party in India’s Parliament. The Congress party and regional parties courted Muslim votes by portraying themselves as defenders of minority rights.

In 2002, the western Indian state of Gujarat erupted in violence when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob in a small town. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the state.

Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time. He was accused of tacit support for the rampage against Muslims, but a court ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing. Still, for several years the U.S. included him on a travel ban. Hosting Trump in Gujarat was important symbolically for Modi.

Violent large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims last took place in New Delhi in 2014, months after Modi’s party came to power, in a largely poor neighborhood close to where this week’s rioting occurred.

A Muslim-owned shop was set on fire, Hindus pelted a mosque with stones, and dozens of angry Muslim men attacked Hindu homes. About three dozen people were injured.

Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma and Shonal Ganguly in New Delhi, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

India pours on the pageantry with colorful welcome for Trump

February 24, 2020

AHMEDABAD, INDIA (AP) — India poured on the pageantry with a joyful, colorful welcome for President Donald Trump on Monday that kicked off a whirlwind 36-hour visit meant to reaffirm U.S.-India ties while providing enviable overseas imagery for a president in a re-election year.

More than 100,000 people packed into the world’s largest cricket stadium, giving Trump the biggest rally crowd of his political career, for the pinnacle of the day’s trio of presidential photo-ops. Trump visited a former home of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and he also planned to tour the famed Taj Mahal.

Nearly everyone in the newly constructed stadium in Ahmedabad in western India sported a white cap with the name of the event, “Namaste, Trump” or “Welcome, Trump,” and roared for the introductions of both Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Trump opened his speech by declaring that he traveled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that “America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people.”

The boisterous scene featured soldiers on camels, a mix of songs from Bollywood hits and Trump’s campaign rally playlist, including an Elton John hit that seemed to puzzle most of the crowd. Trump basked in the raucous reception that has eluded him on many foreign trips, some of which have featured massive protests and icy handshakes from world leaders. In India, he instead received a warm embrace — literally — from the ideologically aligned and hugger Modi.

The sun-baked city of Ahmedabad bustled as Trump arrived, as the streets teemed with people eager to catch a glimpse of the American president. Newly cleaned roads and planted flowers dotted the roads amid hundreds of billboards featuring the president and first lady Melania Trump. Thousands lined his motorcade route, shy of the up to 10 million that Trump speculated would be on hand.

His first stop was Gandhi’s home, where Trump donned a prayer shawl and took off his shoes to create the incongruous image of a grandiose president quietly walking through the humble ashram. He inspected the spinning wheel used by the famed pacifist and looked at a statue of monkeys representing Gandhi’s mantra of “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil” before departing for a far more boisterous setting: the mega-rally at the world’s largest cricket stadium.

Trump’s motorcade traveled amid cheers from a battery of carefully picked and vetted Modi loyalists and workers from his Bharatiya Janata Party who will stand for hours alongside the neatly manicured 22-kilometer (14-mile) stretch of road to accord the president a grand welcome on his way to the newly constructed stadium. Tens of thousands of police officers were on hand to keep security tight and a new wall has come up in front of a slum, apparently to hide it from presidential passers-by.

On the way to the stadium, Trump’s motorcade crossed over a river where a barge was emblazoned with “TRUMP” and onlookers chanted “Modi!” The stadium was packed with revelers, many of whom sported Trump and Modi masks, as they sat in 80-degree temperatures. The “Namaste Trump” rally was, in a way, the back half of home-and-home events for Modi and Trump, who attended a “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston last year that drew 50,000 people.

Trump lavished praise on both Modi and the democracy he leads, touting an effort to lift residents out of extreme poverty, saying “India gives hope to all of humanity.” “Your nation is doing so well, we are very very proud of India,” he said. “The story of the Indian nation is a tale of astounding progress.”

Trump’s foreign visits have typically been light on sightseeing, but this time, the president and first lady are to visit the Taj Mahal. Stories in local media warn of the monkeys that inhabit the landmark pestering tourists for food and, on occasion, menacing both visitors and slingshot-carrying security guards.

Images of American presidents being feted on the world stage stand in contrast to those of their rivals in the opposing party slogging through diners in early-voting states and clashing in debate. This trip, in particular, reflects a Trump campaign strategy to showcase him in his presidential role during short, carefully managed trips that provide counter-programming to the Democrats’ primary contest and produce the kinds of visuals his campaign can use in future ads. His aides also believe the visit could help the president woo tens of thousands of Indian-American voters before the November election.

The visit also comes at a crucial moment for Modi, a fellow populist, who has provided over a steep economic downturn and unfulfilled campaign promises about job creation. When Trump touches down in Delhi later on Monday, he will find a bustling, noisy, colorful capital that also is dotted with half-finished construction projects stalled due to disappearing funding.

The president on Tuesday will conclude his whirlwind visit to India with a day in the capital, complete with a gala dinner meetings with Modi over stalled trade talks between the two nations. The two nations are closely allied, in part to act as a bulwark against the rising influence of nearby China, but trade tensions between the two countries have escalated since the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium from India. India responded with higher penalties on agricultural goods and restrictions on U.S. medical devices. The U.S. retaliated by removing India from a decades-old preferential trade program.

Perhaps alluding to tough negotiations over trade, Trump lightheartedly told the rally crowd: “Everybody loves him, but I will tell you this. He’s very tough.” Eyes will also be on whether Trump weighs on in the protests enveloping India over its Citizenship Amendment Act. It provides a fast track to naturalization for some migrants who entered the country illegally while fleeing religious persecution, but excludes Muslims, raising fears that the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test. Passage has prompted large-scale protests and a violent crackdown.

Typically, Trump has not publicly rebuked world leaders for human rights abuses during his overseas trips. But one senior administration official said the U.S. is concerned about the situation and that Trump will tell Modi the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions and respect religious minorities.

Sheikh Saaliq contributed reporting. Lemire reported from Delhi.

Tag Cloud