As the Indian community in the US came out in full force to cheer for the Howdy Modi event at the NRG Stadium on Sunday morning, a relatively smaller group also protested against the event.
The programme began at 9.30 am local time with a kirtan by Sikh singers followed by performances of Bhangra, Garba and the Bengali song “Ekla Cholo re”, among others.
Trisha Guduru, CEO of a pharmaceutical company, said, “For the Prime Minister to be coming for the event makes such a huge impact for the youth. He is such an advocate of women’s empowerment through his policies.”
Guduru, who came to the US as a 10-year-old, is a successful entrepreneur and a winner of Volunteer Service Award during the term of President Barack Obama. Referring to Kashmir, she said, “Somebody had to make a decision to end something that was going on for many years. We must respect his decision. There is lot of hatred towards him… but he is doing this so that more people don’t suffer.”
Parul Brahmbhatt, an entrepreneur, said Modi is immensely popular here. “As much as we agree with political leaders, he is a people’s leader,” she said. Brahmbhatt is a board member for Non-profit One World.
A short distance away, a small group of protesters assembled at Kirby Avenue, under the watchful eyes of the Houston police. The protesters had gathered under the aegis of Alliance for Justice and Accountability.
Earlier, they held a media interaction and announced their plans. The group comprised of activists Sunita Viswanath from Hindus for Human Rights, Ashton P Woods, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Houston and Syed Ali of the Indian American Muslim Council, among others.
“We are horrified that our religion, which teaches Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, is being hijacked by extremists and nationalists who are lynching Muslims, trampling democracy and law and order and arresting, if not murdering, those who are speaking out,” Viswanath said.
“We are especially appalled by the most recent nightmare of the Kashmiri people and the situation of 1.9 million people in India who are rendered stateless due to the imposition of the travesty called the National Register of Citizens,” she said.
Ali pointed out that several separatist groups, including Khalistanis, have joined the protests, but Alliance for Justice and Accountability does not endorse them. “We support the Kashmiris, the minorities and Dalits. This is a free country where everyone is allowed to protest, but AJA has a larger agenda of countering Hindutva.”
Inside the stadium, the 50,000-strong audience enjoyed the performances, without caring much for the protests.