Washington: A US Congressional Commission’s hearing on human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir nearly fizzled out as only four of the 84 members of the panel turned up for the hearing, the second such meeting by an American panel after India abrogated Article 370 to revoke the special status of that state.
Republicans refused to attend the hearing held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday, saying that this commission “is biased, one sided and has lost credibility”.
Except for Republican Co-Chair Christopher H Smith, no other member from the party turned up for the hearing. Smith in his brief remarks said that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, which needs to act against terrorist groups based inside its territory.
Testifying before the Commission, Sunanda Vashist, an Indian-American columnist, told lawmakers that Kashmir has been an integral part of India.
“India is not just a 70-year-old nation that you see. India is a 5,000-year-old civilisation. There is no Kashmir without India. There is no India without Kashmir. It’s both ways. And I will say this at the top of my voice,” Kashmiri-American Vashist said in response to the separatists supported panel of experts at the hearing.
“India’s democratic credentials are unmatched. They have successfully in a democratic setup, defeated insurgencies in Punjab and Northeast. It’s time to strengthen India against this insurgency in Kashmir and the human rights problem (in Kashmir) will be solved forever,” she said.
Sheila Jackson Lee, a Representative from Texas, asked for a pathway to ensure human rights in the region.
“We should try to find a pathway to at least do the basics to ensure human rights in the region. Why not allow the members of the US Congress to visit both parts of Jammu and Kashmir — in India as well as Pakistan,” Lee said.
Anurnima Bhargava, commissioner from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, alleged, “Religious minorities in India are under a state of fear and active persecution and violence.”
Bhargava, who is of Indian descent, said the restrictions in Kashmir impacted the ability of people to “practice their faith”, visit their places of worship and exercise their rights.
She alleged that there was a growing persecution of religious minorities specially Muslims in India manifested in the form of anti-conversion legislation, and claimed that the Ayodhya verdict, National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, mob violence and revocation of Article 370 led to the growing sense of fear among the Indian minorities.
Last month, the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and NonProliferation of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee also held a hearing on the situation in Kashmir.