US lawmakers ‘deeply concerned’ by government actions in Jammu and Kashmir

Updated on Nov 15, 2019 06:24 AM IST

Actions of the Indian government are “harmful to our close and critical relationship”, said Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat.

Kashmiri journalists holding placards and laptops during a protest against the ongoing internet blockade in Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Kashmiri journalists holding placards and laptops during a protest against the ongoing internet blockade in Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Washington | ByYashwant Raj

US lawmakers expressed concern once again with continued restrictions and detentions in Jammu and Kashmir at a hearing of a congress-created human rights body, much in line with issues raised at a congressional hearing last month, and heard testimonies from officials and activists to that effect as well.

“I am deeply concerned by the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir, to detain people without charge, severely limit communications and block third parties from visiting,” said Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, adding, these are “harmful to our close and critical relationship.

Jayapal had been extremely critical on the restrictions in Kashmir also at the congressional hearing. She was joined Thursday by some of the same lawmakers, mostly Democrats, such as Sheila Jackson Lee, David Trone and David Cicilline to criticize India for the actions in Jammu and Kashmir, in the aftermath of the abrogation of the special constitutional status of the state on August 5.

“USCIRF 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,” Arunima Bhargava, a commissioner at the US human rights commission told lawmakers the hearing held by the Tom Lantos commission on human rights.

“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.

The list of witnesses invited to the hearting has been criticized as “lop-sided”, loaded with those predictably critical of India and its actions in Jammu and Kashmir. One witness, Sunanda Vashisht, a writer, political commentator, and Kashmiri Hindu, pointed that out in her remarks as she sought more attention the issue of terrorism in the region, for a balance to be struck between human life and human rights.

Bhargava, who is of Indian descent, went on to tell lawmakers that the key concerns with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is are that the restrictions are impacting the ability of people to “practice their faith” and visit their places of worship and also exercise their rights, which was targeted at a certain community.

Bhargava broaden the scope of the concerns of the human rights commission. “Religious freedom conditions in India experienced a downward trend in 2018, a trend that unfortunately has continued and appears to be accelerating in 2019,” she said.

“India’s religious minorities currently stand at a precipice,” she added. “If the Indian government continues on its current trajectory, their livelihood, rights, and freedoms could be in serious danger.”

The human rights commission has been critical of India, and its annual report has been unsparring. Bhargava echoed some of its findings. “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.”

The USCRIF then tweeted a video of the exchange between her and Congresswoman Jayapal, saying, “So great to see two strong Indian women having this conversation.”

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