Last Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. It was the culmination of a whirlwind tour of the U.S. and an opportunity to address the international community, at the same time that thousands of protesters outside were accusing his government of human rights violations.

Earlier in the week, Modi stood before 50,000 adoring fans in Houston. Mid-week, he received a prestigious award in Manhattan from none other than Bill Gates. Along the way, he presided over various US-India business deals.

But his U.N. address, perhaps more than any other, was a chance to push back against charges that India is aggressively moving away from religious pluralism in favor of Hindu nationalism.

And so, as he had many other times during his American tour, Modi responded with: Mahatma Gandhi.

“His message of truth and nonviolence is very relevant for us,” Modi said, “even today, for peace, development and progress in the world.”

The protesters who filled Dag Hammarskjold plaza near the U.N., however, weren’t having it.

“Modi, Modi, you can't hide, you committed genocide!” they chanted.

The crowd was filled with various contingents of the South Asian diaspora. These included a group of Khalistani activists who have long pushed for a separate nation for Sikhs. Many drew attention to Modi’s record as chief minister of Gujarat, when he presided over massive riots that left between 1,000 and 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslim.

But the protesters mainly focused on recent events in Kashmir, where India has imposed a communications blackout and arrested thousands, including a number of elected leaders.

“Hindu nationalists have continued to suppress freedom of speech, torture and sexually abuse people of Kashmir, and prevent them from practicing their faith,” said Linda Cheriyan, a South Asian American and member of Black Lives Matter who addressed other demonstrators.

In recent weeks, grassroots opponents of Modi like Cheriyan have been amplified by South Asian celebrities, like Riz Ahmed, who withdrew from a Gates Foundation gala honoring Modi. Nobel peace laureates have voiced similar concerns over Kashmir. And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, an immigrant from India, is calling attention to abuses in Kashmir.

“We want to continue to be proud of our birth country,” said Jayapal, “however we have to respect speak out against human rights violations. And be willing to push for change.”

Acknowledging India’s argument that Kashmir wasn’t something for Western powers to interfere in, Jayapal said the matter “could be designated an internal issue, but the issue of human rights is not an internal issue.”

Modi was re-elected this year, with an overwhelming mandate, and this is one of the main arguments his supporters summon in response to criticisms: that India is a democracy and can manage its own affairs. At the same time, however, he confronts rising concerns about India’s economy, which has slowed significantly and is marked by growing unemployment.

In that respect, Modi’s U.S. trip was successful, said Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of the US India Strategic Forum.

He characterized the prime minister’s visit as “extremely positive and uplifting for U.S.-India ties” and took note of a $2.5 billion energy deal.

“Both countries are thriving democracies with their own internal pressures,” said Aghi. “We believe that all and any kind of dialogue is good and encouraging.”

Protesters greeted Modi at many of his American events, including his massive “Howdy, Modi” pep rally in Houston. But some of them acknowledged that they couldn’t compete with the considerable media attention he received.

“I think that there is no denying that Modi is currently winning the argument,” said Audrey Truschke, a historian at Rutgers who has been an unrelenting critic of the prime minister and Hindu nationalism.

This was the first time she’d spoken at a protest. She said it was increasingly risky for academics in India to speak out against human rights abuses — they can risk their careers — so Western academics had to do their part, and many, by her estimate, remain silent. Fascism, she said, is a real and growing threat to India.

“Academics who are allowing themselves to be silenced and to sit this out should seriously rethink that idea.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that Mukesh Aghi was referring to human rights issues when he was in fact referring to sensitivities regarding international trade. The story has been updated accordingly.

Arun Venugopal is a reporter who focuses on issues of race and immigration at WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter at @arunNYC.