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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

At briefing for US lawmakers, a question on ‘Hindu music’ to indoctrinate in J&K

The US lawmakers spoke about restrictions on communications — using the word “blockade”, as some have described it — including Internet and prepaid mobile phones and detentions, according to people familiar with the discussions.

world Updated: Oct 17, 2019 11:44 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
CRPF personnel stand guard at a market in Srinagar on Friday.
CRPF personnel stand guard at a market in Srinagar on Friday. (ANI file photo)
         

A senior Indian official on Wednesday sought to address concerns raised by US lawmakers at a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill that ranged from the restrictions in place in Kashmir to a “preposterous” allegation that “Hindu music” was being forced upon Muslims there.

The US lawmakers spoke about restrictions on communications — using the word “blockade”, as some have described it — including Internet and prepaid mobile phones and detentions, according to people familiar with the discussions. The denial of permission to foreign journalists to report from the valley also figured.

As they sought answers from Ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla, they were also careful to distance themselves from the questions and attributed them either to news-reports or their constituents. But ask they did even if it was, what someone described as the most “ridiculous” question of them all.

One Democratic lawmaker, who has been critical of the developments in Kashmir, asked the ambassador if it was true that the Indian government was “piping in Hindu music in order to indoctrinate the Muslim population of Kashmir”, according to people familiar with the briefing and the exchanges that took place behind closed doors.

Shringla pushed back naturally, but Indian officials said later that they felt overwhelmed by the general reaction of the other lawmakers in the room: “They all said it was factually incorrect.”

Held just a week ahead of a crucial congressional hearing on South Asia on October 22 that is expected to focus on the situation in Kashmir Valley, Indian diplomats said they felt relieved and encouraged after the briefing for three clear reasons.

One, diplomats say there was complete agreement among US lawmakers that the change in the constitutional status of Kashmir was an internal matter of India.

Two, not one of the lawmakers mentioned Pakistan, whose leadership has been singularly focussed on attempting to embarrass India on Kashmir for months now.

And, three and equally importantly, Indians found a willingness among the lawmakers to listen and be open to look at Kashmir not as a black-and-white case.

The Wednesday briefing — it was not a hearing, both congressional aides and Indian officials made clear — was called by Brad Sherman, a senior member of the House foreign affairs committee and chairman of the subs-committee on South Asia and who will chair the congressional hearing next week. More than a dozen members of the House of Representatives attended, mostly Democrats, and others sent their aides.

Ami Bera, the longest-serving Indian American lawmaker and a genial image of growing ties between the two countries, was one of those present.

But his junior colleague from Washington state, Pramila Jayapal, another Indian American member of the House of Representative, was not, it was noted by her critics in the Indian American community who have tended to play a more crucial role in the US elections in recent years than before.

Ro Khanna, another constituent of the four-member group that calls itself the “Samosa Caucus”, also did not attend and Indian officials were particularly mindful about his absence. He has joined inexplicably the Pakistan caucus in the US congress and also met Prime Minister Imran Khan during his last trip.