Washington, November 15, 2019 (PPI-OT): The US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on human rights have once again expressed concerns about the grim situation in occupied Kashmir. Witnesses examined the situation in the occupied territory and recommended action by the Congress, similar to the last hearing held on October 22.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan commission, held the hearing on Thursday to examine the human rights situation in Kashmir in its historical context, a statement issued at the Commission’s website said.
India had on August 5 revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by repealing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and announced its division into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. These two UTs came into existence on October 31. India had also put the occupied territory under severe military siege and communications blockade on August 5.
Indian-American Congresswoman, Pramila Jayapal, at the hearing said that she was deeply concerned by Indian government’s actions in Kashmir. “To detain people without charge, severely limit communications and block third parties from visiting, is harmful to our close and critical relationship,” the Democrat said. She was joined by other Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee, David Trone and David Cicilline, who criticised India’s actions after scrapping Kashmir’s special status.
Arunima Bhargava, commissioner from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said that the rights of Muslim communities were being curtailed because of Indian government’s actions. “Throughout the country, political and community leaders are promulgating an ideology that suggests that to be Indian is necessarily to be Hindu and views India’s religious minorities as subordinate or foreign,” she told the hearing. “India’s religious minorities currently stand at a precipice. If the Indian government continues on its current trajectory, their livelihood, rights, and freedoms could be in serious danger,” she pointed out.
On occupied Kashmir, Bhargava said, “USCIRF is concerned about reports starting in August that the Indian government restricted freedom of movement and assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, limiting people’s ability to attend prayers and participate in religious ceremonies; forestalling any large gatherings, including for religious purposes; and for certain communities, curtailing access to healthcare and other basic services.”
She said mobile and internet services were denied to Kashmiris and healthcare was withheld by the Indian government. “USCIRF has also seen reports of mosques being closed; imams and Muslim community leaders arrested and detained; and violence and threats towards residents and businesses in particular,” she told the Commission.
Bhargava, who is of Indian descent, said the restrictions in the region impacted the ability of people to “practice their faith”, visit their places of worship and exercise their rights. She claimed this was targeted at a certain community.
Indian columnist and political commentator Sunanda Vashisht, tried to justify the Indian government’s decision to revoke the special status of occupied Kashmir by saying, “The Indian Constitution which is modelled on the US Constitution, is the most liberal document in the world. The Constitution was not applicable in totality until Article 370 was in force.” She also claimed that plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir is never going to happen.
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