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Biden & Modi: A Dance Around Human Rights or Missed Inflection Point?

The grand stage was set, flags were waving, and applause reverberated as President Biden ascended the platform during Modi’s arrival ceremony. With the gravitas befitting only a seasoned politician, he cautioned that we were at an “inflection point,” where the choices we made would cast long shadows on our future. 

He spoke, not of the trade, not of the balance sheets, but of human rights. 

As I listened, I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling, the disappointment creeping like ivy into my heart. 

You see, India, our proud ‘democratic’ partner and the land of my ancestors, has been veering off the well-trodden path of liberal values, diving headfirst into the murky waters of liberalism, with minorities paying a hefty price. 

Amidst an intensifying crackdown on cow slaughter by state governments across India, the sale and consumption of beef is now declared illegal in many states that are governed by the BJP, the ruling political party known for its pro-Hindu ideology. The violent acts perpetrated by the cow vigilante groups have been on the increase, enforcing the ban through brute force and intimidation, with the victims predominantly being Muslims.  

A recent incident in Bihar provides a chilling illustration of this escalating crisis. Muhammad Zahiruddin, a 55-year-old Muslim truck driver, met with a gruesome end at the hands of an extremist Hindu mob. Disturbingly, this took place in the presence of local law enforcement, which did little to nothing to prevent the incident. The tragic event unfolded just days before the recent festival of Eid Al Adha, a Muslim festival marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage by animal sacrifices.

In this case, Zahiruddin was transporting cattle bones to a factory specializing in creating gelatin used widely in the pharmaceutical industry. This tragic event illustrates how legislation can fuel social strife and marginalization of a minority group. 

The irony could not be more stark, considering the United States’ loud proclamations that human rights are not just decorative words, but a central pillar to our Indo-Pacific strategy. If we truly mean it, then human rights should be woven into the very fabric of our interactions, not just mere afterthoughts relegated to the corner.

And yet, here we were, at the crossroads of a decision that could shift paradigms. As Biden met Modi, a golden opportunity to underscore the importance of human rights in our relationship presented itself. But alas, it seemed like it was business as usual. 

Why is it that when it comes to India, we often trade our moral compass for political convenience? It’s disheartening, to say the least, to see that Biden’s approach to Modi’s abysmal human rights record has been, at best, tepid. The echoes of his words during the ceremony still ring in my ears, “the decisions we make today are going to determine our future for decades to come.” 

If only he had heeded his own counsel, we may have witnessed an inflection point where human rights truly took center stage. Sadly, it seems we may have to wait a little longer for that day to dawn.

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