Human Rights Situation in Kashmir Since Lockdown, Assam's NRC to be Discussed at US Congressional Hearing Today


New Delhi: A subcommittee of the United States Congress will on Tuesday conduct a hearing on the human rights situation in South Asia, with a special focus on the Kashmir Valley in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. According to reports, other parts of the subcontinent are also likely to be discussed but the focus will remain on Kashmir.

The committee will also likely focus on the status of the Muslim community in Assam since the rollout of the National Register for Citizens (NRC), the relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese-speakers in Sri Lanka and the human rights record of Pakistan.

The hearing will take place in Washington DC on Capitol Hill at 10 am Eastern Time Zone (USA), which is around 7:30 PM Indian Standard Time. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, other top American diplomats, as well as Kashmiri authors and public personalities, will be asked to testify before members of the United States Congress on the ground situation in Kashmir in the hearing, which is called ‘Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region’.

Arun Kumar, former diplomat who has served India in the United States, said, “India has nothing to be worried about. The US has to show to the world that it takes a leading position on all matters related to human rights, no matter its own record on the subject. Hearings such as this are a routine matter in the US.”

The decision to hold the hearing was taken place when the full communication ban was still in place in Kashmir. Representative Brad Sherman, who is the Chairman of the subcommittee, had tweeted last month,

“Yesterday, I hosted several of my colleagues in a meeting with Ambassador Wells, the top State Department official focused on South Asia. Most of our discussions focused on Kashmir, both the immediate human rights situation and the legal status of Kashmir… We will soon be holding hearings in my Subcommittee to discuss human rights in South Asia. We will discuss, among other things, the need to restore communications and restore civil liberties in Kashmir.”

Since then, postpaid mobile services have been restored in the Valley. The internet shutdown as well as reports of shortage of food and medical supplies, as a result of lockdown in the region, will be discussed in the hearing.

Swinging into actions weeks before the hearing, India’s ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla has been holding discussions with US lawmakers and briefing them about the situation in Kashmir. A delegation of Kashmiri Pandit diaspora in US also met members of the US Congress to explain to them the situation in Kashmir.

This comes at a time when Kashmir has gained space in the American public discourse. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both among the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 Presidential elections, have expressed their concern about the situation in the Valley.

“Issues of human rights in a Presidential election will be raised, especially by Democrats. Human rights are an important issue for the democratic voter base, so it’s not surprising that Democratic candidates are talking about this,” Kumar said.