A day after the US administration said there is a “humanitarian crisis” in J&K, civil society groups testifying before a US Congress committee gave a mixed picture of the ground situation. While three speakers criticised the government on the human rights situation in Kashmir, two others defended New Delhi’s moves.
These people were heard during the second part of the first US Congressional hearing on the government’s decision remove J&K’s special status under Article 370.
The hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region”, lasting two-and-a-half-hours, was chaired by US Congressman Brad Sherman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia.
Nitasha Kaul, associate professor in Politics and International Relations at University of Westminster, said that denial of democratic rights in Kashmir affects not only the residents but also those living outside – in India and overseas. She said, “To be clear, arbitrary arrests, shrinking of space for peaceful expression of views, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and other democratic rights have long been a feature of life in Kashmir. What is new is the acute and extreme nature of the restrictions, contempt for all democratic norms, and putting an end to all possibility for dialogue with Kashmiris, who seek justice, dignity, freedom, and self-determination. Given there is no longer any space for peaceful expression of dissent anywhere in Kashmir, what are Kashmiris being pushed toward? While selling its actions in Kashmir as aimed for development, Indian state has flouted every single principle of democracy.”
Angana Chatterji, co-chair, Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative, research anthropologist at University of California, Berkeley, said: “Kashmiris state that following August 5 they are afraid of their forcible incorporation into the Union of India… Many are apprehensive that inhumane conditions, extreme brutality and the negation of human rights by institutions of state could foster an armed uprising within Kashmir…”
Ravi Batra, chair, National Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs, told the US Congress: “…The first thing somebody wants before they want human rights, they want to live. I owe India an apology – when she suffered the Mumbai terror attack on November 26, 2008, when Jews and Americans were singled out for death by Pakistan-based terrorists, I joined in, arguing for ‘restraint’. I was wrong. Terror needs to be eradicated, so our rights and freedoms mean something.”
Aarti Tikoo Singh, senior assistant editor of The Times of India, told the panel that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism has been completely overlooked by the world media over the last 30 years, evoking a sharp reaction from US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who questioned her objectivity while reporting.
Omar accused Singh of representing the official side of the story and cast aspersions on her journalistic credentials. She did not let Singh speak. Omar said a reporter’s job is to find objective truth about what’s happening, and report it to the public.
Singh accused Omar of being “unfair” and alleged that the hearing was “prejudiced, biased, a setup against India and in favour of Pakistan”. She said: “Throughout these 30 years of conflict, Islamic jihad and terror in Kashmir perpetrated by Pakistan has been completely ignored and overlooked by the world press. There is no human rights activists and no press in the world which feels it is their moral obligation to talk or write about the victims of Pakistani terror in Kashmir.”
Francisco Bencosme, Asia-Pacific advocacy manager at Amnesty International, told the US Congress that Amnesty International has documented a clear pattern of authorities using administrative detention on politicians, activists and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion before and after August 5. “While the Central Home Ministry claims it has no information on name and locations of detainees, media reports suggest that the number of detentions runs in thousands. The Jammu & Kashmir police recently accepted that about 144 children, as young as nine, have been taken into custody.”