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As Chicago Hosts Hindu Congress, Avaaz Urges Attendees to Halt Support for Modi's Plan to Strip Citizenship from Millions in India

*** As 2,000 Hindus descend on Chicago for WHC, local campaigners raise awareness at the event over India’s controversial plan to strip 4 million people of citizenship in a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune and in a mobile billboard ***

CHICAGO (September 7, 2018).— As 2,000 supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met at the World Hindu Congress (WHC), which started today in Chicago, local campaigners gathered at the Westin Hotel in Lombard to denounce an Indian government plan to strip 4 million people of rights and citizenship in the eastern state of Assam.

Adjacent to the event, Avaaz deployed a mobile billboard carrying a message for participants to end support for this plan that could create the world’s next Rohingya-like crisis and be a permanent stain on Indian democracy. Simultaneously, WHC attendees were greeted today by a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune calling the WHC to stay true to Hindu values: “Hinduism has historically been one of the most tolerant world religions, and India's secular constitution remains a beacon of hope. Don't stain that tradition.”

Ricken Patel, CEO of Avaaz, said: “The tolerant traditions of Hinduism have made India’s impossible democracy of over a billion people possible. But stripping millions of Muslims of citizenship and voting rights, even if they were born in India, or have lived in the country for decades, is a grotesque betrayal of faith and country. Prime Minister Modi and Hindu nationalists are opening the door to a dark and brutal future for their country. But it’s not too late for them to remember the wisdom of Hindu sages like Swami Vivekananda, and reverse course.”

Many of the world's most prominent Hindu nationalists are attending the congress in Chicago, which will end on Sunday. Groups attending this weekend's congress are closely allied to the ruling political party in India (BJP), and actively promote policies that could strip fundamental rights away from millions of vulnerable people.

On July 30, India put 4 million people, many of them Muslims of Bengali descent, at risk of statelessness when Assam State published an updated draft list of citizens. Anyone not on the final list -- due once India's Supreme Court decides on a timeframe -- could also be subject to indefinite detention. The most recent release in July of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) faced much greater international scrutiny than previous draft lists, following the launch of Avaaz's global campaign echoing concerns of UN rapporteurs and experts.

Over 830,000 Avaaz members signed a petition urging the UN to raise the alarm and over 10,000 Avaaz members have written to the UN Secretary General with their concerns. Besides Avaaz, 4 UN Special Rapporteurs, Genocide Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all separately urged India to stop a crisis before it starts.

While an appeals process exists, it is confusing, unfair, time-consuming, and expensive. Muslims are especially likely to be excluded from the list as part of a decades-long pattern of discrimination and violence. In advance of finalizing the list, the state is constructing a new detention center for ‘foreigners’ in addition to the 6 existing ones.

The state government has accused Avaaz of “fake propaganda” but has not released a clear policy on what rights people will have once they’re off the NRC list.

The final citizenship update must comply with international human rights standards, ensuring the rights of due process are honored. Specifically, no one should be detained or deported without the right to counsel and a fair trial that meets international standards. A naturalization process must exist for all people, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 that offers a path to citizenship for non-Muslims, should extend to all, without discriminating on the basis of religion.


Avaaz Media team: +14152179392 mediateam@avaaz.org

New York: Will Davies, +1 646-628-1210 / will@avaaz.org


Notes to editors

- Thousands of Avaaz members from around the world have written to the Indian government to press them for answers and over 10,000 Avaaz members have written directly to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, appealing for him to intervene.

- On July 19, Avaaz wrote to Mr. Prateek Hajela, IAS State Coordinator, NRC, Assam asking him to clarify the legal status and fate of the people not on the final list, which he has not responded to.