Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the White House in late June with plenty of pomp and circumstance from President Joe Biden. Modi's welcome included a South Lawn photo op, a state dinner – and something not every visiting foreign leader is given the opportunity to do: address a joint session of Congress.
The public display surrounding Modi's visit underscored the growing relationship between India and the U.S., especially in terms of defense and manufacturing. For the Biden administration, it's kind of a "better together" approach with India to weaken China's growing influence in the region.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said the visit served to affirm "the deep and close partnership between the United States and India and the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together." KJP also said the two nations share a "commitment to a free, open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific."
However, the adjectives "free, open and prosperous" don't apply to Christians in India. In fact, believers in Jesus Christ there are subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation. Other religious minorities also face persecution from the country's Hindu-majority population.
Until the late 1990s, Indian Christians lived in relative peace with their Hindu neighbors. But in more recent years, government support for persecution through vague "anti-conversion" laws have caused spikes in violence.
"These are laws meant to prohibit Christians from sharing their faith with others and leading other people to Christ. Even being accused of violating one of these laws can inspire mob violence against Christians. We've seen churches burned to the ground over these types of accusations," Arielle Del Turco, Family Research Council's director of the Center for Religious Liberty, said recently on Washington Watch.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, dominated with pro-Hindu influence, has been a problem in the rise of violence. The party is closely aligned with Sangh Parivar, an umbrella term for a collection of organizations that enforce their will through a volunteer paramilitary group.
"We see [violence] against Muslims too, and Prime Minister Modi's party has been a huge part of making this problem worse," Del Turco told show host Jody Hice.
The attacks on Christians are well known by the U.S. – and Del Turco pointed out the Biden administration, while cozying up to Modi in June, could have used that time to put India on notice.
"The first thing the Biden administration needs to do is stop lying to themselves and stop lying to the rest of the world about this," Del Turco said.
Christianity Today in January reported about brutal beatings in central India where an angry mob called Christians to the center of a village and attacked them. Christian villagers interviewed in the story have not returned to their homes.
In February, more than 15,000 Christians peacefully demonstrated in the capital of New Delhi begging for authorities to respond to the rapid rise of anti-Christian attacks. A spokesperson for the group told Vatican News that hundreds of Christians have been jailed for practicing their faith, and hundreds more have fled their villages.
Persecution of Christians in India on everyone else's radar
According to Del Turco, this isn't new information for the Biden White House.
"Even the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom report talks about these issues and reports on them every single year; and every single year there's a plethora of terrible incidents that occur in India with law enforcement and the government doing essentially nothing to address it or worse, fomenting this kind of hatred and intolerance towards Christians," Del Turco said.
Biden and Modi sought to highlight their countries' similarities in June. Biden said both nation's "believe in the dignity of every citizen," while Modi, through an interpreter, added that India has "absolutely no space for discrimination."
Both statements run counter to mainstream media reports that say otherwise.
"There is no excuse for President Biden to basically get up there and be making excuses for the prime minister of India. I understand that there are strategic reasons that we would want to maintain a relationship with India, however that doesn't have to come at the cost of lying about authoritarian leaders in other parts of the world," Del Turco argued.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled India among its "countries of particular concern," its lowest ranking, where it joins China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan among others. India also ranks among the 11 countries exhibiting "extreme levels of persecution" on Open Doors' World Watch List 2023. India has carried that label on that list since 2019.