United States lawmakers on Thursday once again raised concerns about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir at the Congressional hearing on human rights, Hindustan Times reported. Witnesses examined the situation in the region and recommended action by the Congress, similar to the last hearing held on October 22.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan commission, held the hearing “to examine the human rights situation in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir in India in historical and national context”, a statement from the Commission’s website said.
India had on August 5 rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, paving way for the creation of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. These came into existence on October 31.
Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal at the hearing said she was deeply concerned by the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir. “To detain people without charge, severely limit communications and block third parties from visiting, is harmful to our close and critical relationship,” the Democrat said.
She was joined by other Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee, David Trone and David Cicilline, who criticised India’s actions after scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status.
Arunima Bhargava, commissioner from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the rights of Muslim communities were being curtailed because of the Centre’s actions. “Throughout the country, political and community leaders are promulgating an ideology that suggests that to be Indian is necessarily to be Hindu, and views India’s religious minorities as subordinate or foreign,” she told the hearing. “India’s religious minorities currently stand at a precipice. If the Indian government continues on its current trajectory, their livelihood, rights, and freedoms could be in serious danger.”
On Jammu and Kashmir, Bhargava said “USCIRF [United States Commission on International Religious Freedom] is concerned about reports starting in August that the Indian government restricted freedom of movement and assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, limiting people’s ability to attend prayers and participate in religious ceremonies; forestalling any large gatherings, including for religious purposes; and for certain communities, curtailing access to health care and other basic services.”
She said mobile and internet services were denied to Kashmiris and healthcare was withheld by the Centre.
“USCIRF has also seen reports of mosques being closed; imams and Muslim community leaders arrested and detained; and violence and threats towards residents and businesses in particular,” she told the Commission.
Bhargava, who is of Indian descent, said the restrictions in the region impacted the ability of people to “practice their faith”, visit their places of worship and exercise their rights. She claimed this was targeted at a certain community.
Meanwhile, Kashmiri columnist and political commentator Sunanda Vashisht defended the government’s decision to revoke the special status. “The Indian Constitution which is modelled on the US Constitution, is the most liberal document in the world,” she said at the hearing, according to ANI. “The Constitution was not applicable in totality until Article 370 was in force.”
She said India’s democratic credentials were unmatched. “The country has successfully, in a democratic setup, defeated insurgencies in Punjab and northeast,” Vashisht added. “It is time to strengthen India against such insurgencies and the human rights problems will be solved forever.”
The columnist said terrorists trained by Pakistan have been unleashing “ISIS level of horror and brutality” in the Valley much before the West was even introduced to the brutalities of radical Islamic terror. “I am glad these hearings are happening here today because when my family and everyone like me lost our homes our livelihood and our way of life the world remained silent,” Vashisht said.
“All deaths have been happening due to terrorists trained by Pakistan,” she alleged. “This doublespeak is not helping India in any way.”
She stressed that the international community must assist India in its fight against radical Islamist terror. “Plebiscite in Kashmir is never going to happen,” Vashisht added. She said a plebiscite required the entire community to unite for a decision, but in this case, a part of Kashmir is in India, another in Pakistan, a part of it is also with China.
“India is not just a 70-year-old identity, but a 5000-year-old civilisation,” she said in her concluding remarks. “There is no India without Kashmir, and no Kashmir without India.”