BJP has Threatened India-US Values: US Senator on J&K Situation

Influential American lawmakers on Tuesday, 22 October, expressed concern over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of the special status of the erstwhile state and said that as the world's largest democracy India needs to uphold its commitment to human rights.

The lawmakers, including Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, aired their concerns during a Congressional hearing on 'Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region'.

India, on 5 August, abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories, triggering a strong reaction from Pakistan, which downgraded its diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy.

" “I recognise that the situation is complex. I recognise that Pakistan is not without its share of responsibility.”" - Pramila Jayapal, Congresswoman

However, India as the world's largest democracy and a critical ally for the US, needs to uphold its commitment to human rights, she said.

Also Read: Scuffle at JNU Campus As MoS Jitendra Singh Speaks on Article 370

The first Indian-American lawmaker in the US House of Representatives, Jayapal said she has expressed her concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir with the Indian government but also publicly and to the media.

Jayapal referred to a report about detention of dozens of children in Kashmir and said detention without charges is unacceptable.

She expressed her concerns about religious freedom in India and said that she proposes to bring a bipartisan resolution in the Congress.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has been highly critical of India on Kashmir, said partnership with India is strategic but is also based on common values of human rights and democracy. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP has threatened all these values, she alleged.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells disagreed with the characterisation of the Somali-origin lawmaker.

The US has a strong and deep relationship with the Modi government, Wells said as she referred to the democratic process adopted by the Indian Government in abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

'Entire World Focused on Kashmir'

Congressman Brad Sherman, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in his opening remarks said that the entire world is focused today on what is happening in Kashmir.

Expressing concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir, Sharman said that there are severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communications.

Lawmakers Ted Yoho, Abigail Spanberger and Mike Fitzpatrick also expressed concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir and urged India to take steps to lift restrictions on movement of people, communication restrictions and detention of political leaders.

Responding to a question from Sherman about Senator Chris Van Hollen who was barred from travelling to Kashmir, Wells said that so far US government officials have not been able to visit Kashmir to get a first-hand information of the situation on the ground. But it has maintained contact with the government, civil societies and the members of the press, she added.

In response to another question from Sherman, Wells said that the US regards the Line of Control (LoC) as the de-facto line of separation. As such, the US recognises the de-facto administration on both sides of the LoC.

Fitzpatrick said the goal of the US should be to uncover the truth. She also called for a classified hearing on threats from terrorists from Pakistan in Kashmir.

Wells said that the situation in Jammu and Ladakh has largely returned to normal, but the situation in Kashmir has been an issue of concern. But over the last seven-eight days situation in Kashmir has improved, she added.

There have been reported case of difficulties on health care issues because of the restrictions on movement and communications.

The US is reaching out to engaging a wide section and make a case for a political roadmap in Jammu and Kashmir.

Spanberger, who represents Central Virginia, wanted to know how the US is getting information from Kashmir as she is receiving two conflicting accounts from the state.

Appreciating the concerns expressed by lawmakers, Wells said the US has seen gradual improvement on the ground. But there is real hardship among the people, she said. Hundreds of people remain under detention, she added.

'Like Lincoln, Modi took Extraordinary Steps,' Says Attorney

Terror needs to be eradicated, so rights and freedoms mean something, a top Indian-American attorney has said as several US lawmakers underscored the importance of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir after the revocation of its special status.

Ravi Batra's remarks came while responding to a Congressional subcommittee on human rights in South Asia.

"When you have people afraid to come out of their house because they don't want to be blown up because cross border terrorism exists as a daily event and homegrown terrorist being nurtured. The first thing somebody wants before they want human rights, they want to live," the attorney from New York told the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"“I owe India an apology, as when she suffered the Mumbai Terror attack on 26 November 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.”" - Ravi Batra, Indian-American Attorney

Batra said like former US President Abraham Lincoln, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took extraordinary steps like legal amendments to have legal authority and then installing a massive force to prevent fatalities in Kashmir from motivated fire-fights by cross-border or home-grown terrorists.

Batra, who was personally invited by Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to testify on this important issue, referred to Modi's argument in abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

"He (Modi) said he did this to bring the promise of equal rights and freedoms to all Indians. His actions on 5 August 2019 were judicious, as they were careful. No war broke out. Terrorists were immobilised, as communications and internet were cut off,” Batra said.

"“India, it seems, learned from her Mumbai terror attack. Indeed, landing at JFK airport, when standing in line for immigration inspection, there is no phone service or internet connection. Safety matters.”" - Ravi Batra, Indian-American Attorney

Batra also drew a parallel between Jammu and Kashmir and the US states of Louisiana and Alaska. "A simple point worth making: Kashmir was attached to India by a legal decree duly signed by its then-Hindu ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, several months after the needlessly bloody Partition when tens of millions were killed," he said.

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