Pramila Jayapal hits back, saying she won’t stop speaking on human rights in India

Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Pramila Jayapal; American Bazaar file photo

In a Washington Post oped, Jayapal says it is “inappropriate” for a foreign government “to try to dictate” Capitol Hill meetings.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who was snubbed by India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last week, has vowed to continue to speak on the human rights situation in India.

“As a member of Congress and as an Indian American, I will continue to speak out on fundamental principles of democracy such as freedom of the press, religious freedom and due process,” she wrote in an oped in the Washington Post. “Protecting these rights — particularly in the most difficult of circumstances — is the only way democracies can survive and thrive.”

Jaishankar, who was in Washington last week, along with his India’s Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh, for the so-called “2+2 Dialogues” with their U.S. counterparts Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, had requested a meeting with House Foreign Affairs Committee members.

But the minister canceled the meeting when he learned that Jayapal, the first Indian American woman to get elected to U.S. Congress, was part of the delegation, headed by committee Chairman Rep. Eliot L. Engel.

The Washington Democrat, who said was surprised by the Indian stance, wrote that “apparent reason” for canceling the meeting was congressional resolution she introduced earlier this month, along with Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Watkins, urging India to uphold human rights in Kashmir.

RELATED: End ‘communications blackout in Kashmir and adhere to human rights standards,’ Pramila Jayapal tells India (October 11, 2019)

House Resolution 745 urges “India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents.” Introduced on December 6, so far it has 29 co-sponsors, including two Republicans.

Jayapal, who represents the 7th congressional district of Washington, wrote that “it is wholly inappropriate for any foreign government to try to dictate which members of Congress participate in meetings on Capitol Hill.”

She characterized it as a “sign of weakness” on the part of India “to refuse to allow those who have some criticisms to participate in a meeting” and as “a giant missed opportunity for two countries that value dialogue and dissent.”

Born in Chennai, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Jayapal came to the United States as a 16-year-old in 1982. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2000. She was first elected to Congress in 2016.

The congresswoman wrote that she had raised the issue of religious freedom directly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when she visited her country of birth two years ago as part of a U.S. congressional delegation, which also included then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Jaishankar also attended the meeting, according to the lawmaker.

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She wrote, “Unfortunately, the situation in India has gotten far worse since that visit. There has been a spike in attacks against religious minorities throughout India. The Indian government’s imposition of a media blackout in Kashmir is now the longest-running Internet shutdown ever to occur in a democracy. While some landlines have been restored, millions still have no access to mobile services or the Internet.”

The congresswoman pointed out that foreign journalists “have largely been kept out” of Kashmir and even Indian parliamentarians have not been able to visit the troubled region. “Hospitals have been unable to get supplies, emergency health services have been severely disrupted and people with serious health conditions have been unable to access critical medicines,” she added.

Criticizing the practice of “preventive custody,” Jaypal said more than 5,000 Kashmiris, among them about 144 children, have been detained under the controversial Public Safety Act, which allows law enforcement officials to imprison anyone for as many as two years, without trial. “These ‘preventive’ arrests afford detainees no due process and are clear violations of international human rights. As of Dec. 4, 609 people remained in custody in and outside of Kashmir,” she wrote.

RELATED: India should be a secular democracy with equal opportunity and economic mobility for all (December 22, 2019)

Jayapal wrote that prior introducing the House resolution, she had scheduled two meetings with Indian Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla, and, on both occasions, the meetings were canceled by the Indian side.

In the oped, Jaypal also criticized the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed by the Indian parliament on December 6. The law fast-tracks Indian citizenship applications of minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslim citizens of these countries fleeing similar persecution.

She wrote, “Unfortunately, in the weeks since we introduced our resolution on Kashmir, India has passed a new citizenship law that excludes Muslim migrants from its majority-Muslim neighbors from a new pathway to citizenship, an unprecedented break from India’s secular constitution. Taken together with the National Register for Citizens — a citizenship survey piloted in the state of Assam that led to the exclusion of nearly 2 million people from the state’s citizenship records — many fear this new citizenship law could be used to prevent Muslim migrants from becoming citizens and voting. And on Friday, the Indian government issued an advisory demanding that cable television stations in the country abstain from broadcasting any content that “promotes anti-national attitudes.”

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