United States Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal on Tuesday wrote in The Washington Post that Indian Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar’s decision to pull out of a meeting with American legislators because of her invitation to the event was surprising. She also expressed concern about the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens.
Jayapal – who introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives a few months back asking India to uphold human rights in Jammu and Kashmir – said it was “wholly inappropriate” for a foreign government to try and dictate which members of Congress can participate in meetings. “It is also a sign of weakness for any great democracy to refuse to allow those who have some criticisms to participate in a meeting – a giant missed opportunity for two countries that value dialogue and dissent.”
Jayapal said she had “raised the issues of religious freedom in India to Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly” during a congressional visit in 2017. Jaishankar also participated in that meeting, she added.
“Unfortunately, the situation in India has gotten far worse since that visit. There has been a spike in attacks against religious minorities throughout India,” she added. “The Indian government’s imposition of a media blackout in Kashmir is now the longest-running Internet shutdown ever to occur in a democracy. While some landlines have been restored, millions still have no access to mobile services or the Internet.”
Jayapal said foreign journalists had largely been kept out of the region “and even Indian members of Parliament have been unable to visit the area”. The congresswoman pointed out that hospitals had been unable to get supplies, and emergency health services were severely disrupted.
The Democratic Party leader said before the Kashmir resolution was introduced earlier this month, she had two meetings scheduled with Indian ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla. Both of them were cancelled by the envoy’s office, she added.
Jayapal said the Citizenship Amendment Act was “an unprecedented break from India’s secular constitution”. She pointed out that along with the National Register of Citizens, the amended law “could be used to prevent Muslim migrants from becoming citizens and voting”. She expressed her concern at the Narendra Modi government’s decision to issue an advisory directing news channels to abstain from broadcasting content that “promotes anti-national attitudes”.
“The United States has a responsibility to advocate for human rights around the world – a cause I have championed in my own life and work,” the Congresswoman said. “As a member of Congress and as an Indian American, I will continue to speak out on fundamental principles of democracy such as freedom of the press, religious freedom and due process. Protecting these rights – particularly in the most difficult of circumstances – is the only way democracies can survive and thrive.”
Explaining his reason for cancelling the visit, Jaishankar had said some of the lawmakers he was supposed were not objective and were biased. “I am aware of that [Jayapal’s] resolution,” he told reporters after concluding his visit. “I don’t think it’s a fair understanding of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, or a fair characterisation of what the government of India is doing. And I have no interest in meeting [Jayapal].”