House hearing on human rights in South Asia turns into an India-bashing forum

House hearing on human rights in South Asia
Image via CSPAN screen capture

Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar among lawmakers who voiced concern over Indian actions in Kashmir.

India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir were sharply criticized by members of Congress at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The hearing, conducted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, was supposed to focus on “Human Rights in South Asia,” but ended by a panel on Kashmir and the situation in another Indian state, Assam.

Chaired by Brad Sherman, Chairman of the subcommittee, the witnesses testified included Department of State officials Alice Wells, an Acting Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Robert A. Destro, an Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Sherman, a California Democrat, began the hearing by observing that the whole world is watching what is happening in the troubled Kashmir region.

India ended the special status Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed under its constitution on August 5 and imposed a security clampdown and restricted communication, in order to prevent potential violence in the valley. It also bifurcated the state into two “Union Territories” bringing it directly under New Delhi’s control.

RELATED: At some stage, there will be elections in Kashmir: Indian Ambassador Shringla (August 15, 2019)

Among the members who criticized the action include Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who has been very vocal about human rights issue in Kashmir. “I recognize that the situation is complex,” said the Democrat, the first Indian American woman to enter the US Congress. “I recognize that Pakistan is not without its share of responsibility. However, India, as the world’s largest democracy and a critical ally for the US, needs to uphold its commitment to human rights.”

Jayapal also brought to attention a report about detention of dozens of children in Kashmir. She stressed that detention without any charges is unacceptable and proposed a bipartisan resolution in Congress on the issue.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (R-MN) also stressed the human rights violation in Kashmir and said that the US partnership with India is strategic but is also based on common values of human rights and democracy. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has threatened all these values, she said, pointing to Kashmir and a National Citizenship Registry in the northeastern state of Assam, which is allegedly aimed at robbing more than a million Muslims of citizenship.

RELATED: The stories of Kashmiris must be heard (August 13, 2019)

The Democrat, one of the most vocal members in the House, later tweeted a short clip of her statement and wrote: “Kashmiris have been restricted from communicating outside their country for 50+ days. In Assam almost 2 million people are being asked to prove their citizenship. This is how the Rohingya genocide started. At what point do we question if PM Modi shares our values?”

Sherman, too, shared the concerns of his colleagues and said that there are severe restrictions on the freedom of movement and communications. Lawmakers who criticized Indian action include Reps Abigail Spanberger, Mike Fitzpatrick and Ted Yoho.

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