The US Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) hearing on Kashmir – Jammu and Kashmir in Context, was literally dominated by five women, all with Indian origins, reports Tahir Bhat
Concerns were reiterated by US lawmakers, lawyers, activists and the private citizens, invited by the US Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) for a daylong hearing on Kashmir. They demanded the release of political detainees, access to foreign media, end to communication blockade in Kashmir, reports appearing in the media said. It was the second hearing by a Congress committee on Kashmir in a month.
“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,” PramilaJayapal, an Indian origin Democrat, was quoted by The Hindustan Times telling the hearing. She said these are “harmful to our close and critical relationship.”
The newspaper said she was joined by other lawmakers including Sheila Jackson Lee, David Trone and David Cicilline in criticising India’s Kashmir move.
Arunima Bhargava, another Indian origin woman, who heads the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also testified before the Commission. “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,” Bhargava was quoted saying. “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.”
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, submitted a detailed report to the Commission. “The Indian government has largely dismissed the international attention, calling the July UN report, for instance, a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism,” Sifton said in his submission, available on-line. “There are legitimate security concerns about militant groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan has supported militant groups that have carried out attacks. This, however, does not absolve Indian authorities of holding to account security forces responsible for serious violations of human rights.”
Explaining the abrogation of special status, Sifton has said the BJP has justified it by saying that it intends to “deliver social and economic justice” But, he regretted, “we have only seen an intensification of the repression of Kashmir’s population.”
“I am from a family where [in] the last three generations before me, anyone who’s a political activist was detained or tortured,” al-Jazeera quoted Sehla Ashai, a senior staff attorney at the Constitutional Law Centre for Muslims in America, telling the Commission. “I am here because I hope that the current pattern and cycle of human rights abuses can be ended for once and for all.”
Yousra Fazili, the cousin of currently detained businessman and former head of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, Dr Mubeen Shah, has also testified before the Commission. “My cousin might be in jail and other people are in jail but the whole place is under arrest,” Fazili was quoted by the website saying. She is a Washington based attorney and writer.
However, the media coverage of the hearing in India suggests that writer columnist Sunanda Vashisht stole the show. Her testimony revolved around the incidents that took place in 1990.
India Today reported that Vashisht spoke about “a young woman, a lab assistant in a school, who she said was abducted, blindfolded, gang-raped and cut into two halves on a mechanical saw while still alive”, and a young engineer, who was shot “through the rice container he was hiding in” and whose wife was “forced to eat the blood-soaked rice”.
“We have seen ISIS level of horror and brutality in Kashmir, 30 years before the West was even introduced to the brutalities of radical Islamic terror,” she was quoted saying. “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.”
Defending Delhi’s abrogation of special status, the Kashmir origin writer said the scrapping was “a restoration of human rights”. Ruling out a plebiscite, she said Kashmir is an integral part of India and vice versa. Vashisht, al-Jazeera said, did not acknowledge reports that the “current siege disproportionately affects Kashmiri women, with widespread misogynistic rhetoric used as a tool by the Indian state to scare women”.
“It is imperative to investigate all crimes against Kashmiri pandits through an international inquiry since Indian criminal justice processes have failed,” Haley Duschinski, Director of the Centre for Law, Justice and Culture at the Ohio University said in her testimony. “It is also imperative that the pain and suffering of any Kashmiri community should not be instrumentalised, manipulated or weaponised as a claim against other communities.”
“The commission does not enjoy the authority to write legislation but it can lobby and raise awareness on the Hill,” Times of India reported in anticipation of the hearing. “The hearing will not make a material difference to official US policy, but it would be one more lobbying effort sponsored and supported by Pakistan against India on Capitol Hill at a time when the bipartisan consensus on India is fragile.”
“There’s no denying that India has a growing problem on Capitol Hill. And it goes beyond a battle of perception or competing narratives, incidentally, neither of which India has won,” Seema Sirohi, an Indian commentator based in the US recently wrote. “The problem goes deeper. Old friends of India such as Senator Mark Warner, co-chair of the India Caucus, have gone public with statements on Kashmir.”