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THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 29 OCTOBER, 2019

Kashmir At The US Congress

‘We are asking for human rights and substantive democracy and for the question of freedom.’


NEW DELHI: The United States House of Representatives held a hearing last Tuesday on human rights in south Asia which focused on Kashmir. Earlier we reported highlights from the first session, where members of Congress quizzed State Department officials about the US government’s stand on Kashmir as well as the NRC and proposed amendments to the Citizenship Bill.

In the second session researchers, activists and a journalist were asked about the ongoing clampdown and the way ahead. Excerpts from the hearing:


Ami Bera, Democrat from California

It’s been a busy morning, my apologies that I wasn’t here for the first hearing, we’re attending to our own democracy here in America… The strength of India is its history and basis as a secular democracy, and the core foundational basis of a democracy is the protection of minority rights… I would make an urgent plea to India to allow journalists back into Kashmir so we have accurate warning of what’s going on on the ground. (Loud applause)

…As members of Congress travel to the region, we want to be of assistance… the sooner we can get back to the normalisation of communications and the press and others being able to visit, I think it’s in India’s interest and the world’s interest to be able to do that…


Nitasha Kaul, associate professor of politics at the University of Westminster

I want to begin by saying that I’m mindful of the ironies of speaking here in non-communal terms, being someone who is a Kashmiri Pandit herself by birth, but also someone from Kashmir who grew up in India, lives in England and is speaking in the US today. There are multiple colonial transitions there that are important. (Loud applause)

The parallels with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust [made earlier] are very apt, because the RSS in India, about which concerns were raised in the morning as well, is a nationwide paramilitary that is the ideological parent of the current ruling party. The RSS avowedly has an idea of turning India into a Hindu nation, it also has this idea of an undivided India where everything else in the region will become part of a Hindu India.

Please remember also that the New York Times in 1922 profiled Hitler saying Mr Hitler’s anti-Semitism is neither as violent nor as genuine as it sounds. So things take time to unfold, and the proto-fascist trajectory that sadly the secular democracy of India is on, is very worrying for us all.

Let me also say that I’ve been to Kashmir every year, including this year during elections when the whole place was deserted… I don’t represent either Indian interests nor Pakistani interests, and in fact that is precisely the problem, that the people who speak about Kashmiri self interest and the rights of Kashmiris themselves are the ones most vulnerable, from any and every side.

Communal politics serves no one. It does not serve Indians and if Kashmir were a communal issue then Muslims in India would feel the same as Kashmiri Muslims, and they do not. So it is not a communal issue—it’s an issue that has been communalised.

I would also like to say that every other day for Kashmiris is the commemoration of a massacre, and when Indians (this is not personally against Indians or Pakistanis) when Indians expect acknowledgment of a massacre like Jallianwala Bagh, when under General Dyer fire was opened upon unarmed protesters, what about all the Kashmiri protesters?

What we are asking here is really very, very simple. We are asking for human rights and substantive democracy and for the question of freedom. The people who have been fired upon for just gathering non-violently over the years, in numerous massacres that I have listed in my statement—there should be an acknowledgment from the state to say, we are sorry.

Nothing can move on unless there is an acknowledgment of all the human rights violations that have gone on for this people, who have been an important site of early Buddhism, who have seen Hindu and Mughal and Afghan rulers, who were sold for the equivalent of $150,000 in 1846 by clauses of the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar without their consent!

And who then had an unrepresentative ruler. All through the 19th century it’s a story of absolute tragedy, and then when we come into the 20th Kashmir was one of the first interstate disputes that the UN was prominently involved in. There are several resolutions in those early years where the UN was trying under various people to demilitarise Kashmir…

This is a long and complex history which should not obfuscate from us a very simple fact: that there is a political problem here, which is compounded by human rights violations, and the international community has a role because it has implications not just for Kashmiris—who are currently under siege and under collective punishment, being deprived of their very basic rights—it also has regional and global implications. Because people travel across borders, and ideas when they are suffocated and dissent when suffocated becomes the hardest to handle.

The question here is really not so much about Article 370. The fundamental question here is about the consent of the people. (Sustained applause)

If something is being carried out for people’s welfare, for their development, then why does it need tens of thousands of troops being brought in, why must it happen overnight without absolutely any consultation of the people? (Applause) With placing even the pro-India politicians in prison and then depriving the populace of the right to say anything? If it’s for their own good, why won’t any of them be allowed to say anything about it?

This is an egregious human rights violation, it goes against consent, against fundamental principles of dissent as it relates to democracy. And as people who are being claimed in the name of democracy, as rights bearing individuals, it’s something they should fundamentally be allowed to do. This is arbitrary use of power with no accountability. (Sustained applause)


Angana Chatterji, research anthropologist at the University of California in Berkeley

The 2014 and 2019 elections have led to the repositioning of India as a majoritarian state. Hindu majoritarianism sanctifies India as intrinsically Hindu and marks the non-Hindu as its adversary.

What is going on in Kashmir needs to be read within that landscape. Race and nation are being made synonymous and Hindus, the formerly colonised now governing elite, are depicted as the national race.

The siege of August 5 signalled the dissolution of the right of Kashmiris to consent over their present and their future. In October 2019 India’s incumbent home minister Mr Amit Shah reportedly stated that western human rights standards can’t be blindly applied to India, and I would here ask us to recognise and remember that Mr Modi and Mr Shah were also part of the government in Gujarat in 2002 when the pogrom against the Muslim community took place, for which they have never actually apologised or claimed responsibility.

In Kashmir, through the protracted conflict, atrocities have been committed against the civilian population that include dispossession, displacement, enforced disappearance, rape, torture, extrajudicial execution, and their burial in unknown and mass graves that I investigated.

I have walked through the graveyards that hold Kashmir’s dead and met with grieving families. I have listened to the testimony of a mother who sleep walks to the grave of her son, attempting to resuscitate his body. I’ve met with half widows, women whose husbands have been disappeared.

Kashmir’s population lives with recurring trauma and social death, and with a very high rate of suicidal behaviours. Only on the rarest of occasions does a female victim of gendered or sexualised violence succeed in bringing her case to the notice of the judicial system. Torture too is an intrinsic component of governance in Kashmir.

I want to spend a minute talking about Kashmiri resistance and human rights. If the stand of the ruling party in India is that the resolution of the Kashmir issue will be attempted through demographic changes made possible through the abrogation of Article 35A and the nullification of Article 370, many in Kashmir fear the intent of this demographic change may be culturally and politically and physically genocidal.

The international community must engage in protecting the rights of Kashmiris and amplifying their voices.

Subjected to a near constant state of suppression for decades as Kashmiris have been, and an active and continual dissent as Kashmiris have been, how can the Indian state take for granted the collective consent of the Kashmiri people?

Kashmiris state that following August 5, 2019 they are afraid of their forcible incorporation into the union of India by Hindu nationalists. Many are apprehensive that inhuman conditions, extreme brutality, and the negation of human rights by institutions of state could foster an armed uprising within Kashmir, yet again.

Human rights violations and the states of exception that sustain them cannot be addressed without demilitarisation. The demilitarisation of Kashmir is repeatedly discoursed as an issue between India and Pakistan. Further, the fraught relations of historical animosity between the two states continue to cast a long shadow over Kashmir.

Kashmiris across every diversity and difference stipulate that they must be recognised as legitimate and the principal stakeholders in any and all matters relating to Kashmir's future, and that their right to determine and govern their destiny must be recognised. (Sustained applause)

I will end with just one quotation from people who have been living in the Kashmir valley…

She says we are under siege, isolation is a cage in which we live, there is fear of escalation of violence, state violence, insurgent violence. The atmosphere is one of unchecked reprisal, and it has resulted in the silencing of the people. We feel our future is very uncertain.

My words are silent. In this silence I can hear the screams, I see the streets of blood, on the steps of the shop I smell the anguish, I hear the state’s violent denials, the eyes of a boy blinded by pellets last week. I see my sister's tears as the soldier grabs her, our rage the soldier's sadistic gaze, the bullets lodged in the wall next to our home. I see.


Francisco Bencosme, Amnesty International

I would like to focus on two trends we’re seeing in the region: a growing crackdown on freedom of expression, and a mounting wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. Almost one year ago today the government of India raided the office of Amnesty India for ten hours. They ordered some of our staff to not leave, lock the gates, and not use their phones. Since the raids our funds have been frozen, forcing Amnesty India to grind its work to a halt and downsize its staff.

This is not unique to Amnesty. The week before it was Greenpeace and The Quint, a news website. In July of this year authorities filed a criminal case against Lawyers Collective, a group that provides legal aid, advocates for the rights of marginalised groups, and campaigns to end discrimination against LGBTQ people.

It’s also not unique to India, we’ve seen Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal all create legislation to crack down on civil society.

We’re one of the largest human rights organisations in India, doing crucial work such as research on Kashmir where we’ve been documenting abuses for over a decade, and according to reporters the Indian government is actually planning further action against both Amnesty and Greenpeace that could happen any day now, and imminent arrests are expected of our top staff.

As the world’s largest democracy and a crucial strategic partner to the US, what does this say about India?…

Last week we came out with one of the most comprehensive updates on the situation in Kashmir where we document a clear pattern of arbitrary detention, of politicians and activists, cases of security force abuses such as torture and inhumane treatment, and a communications clampdown which undermined the ability of individuals to reach health services in the region…


Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat from California

Many constituents with ties to the region have shared their stories with me… My first question has to do with the US-India relationship. Dr Chaterji, we obviously value our relationship with India, we share common values ostensibly. That being said, the personal testimonies from my constituents and the media reports coming out of the region reflect that something is happening in Kashmir that doesn’t reflect the values we hold in common. Could you talk about gender issues, gender rights in that region, compared to other parts of India and Pakistan?

CHATTERJI

I am an anthropologist and we are sort of encumbered by language and other issues, so I’m not in a position to speak on field realities in Pakistan. But I will speak to Kashmir.

In Kashmiri society, from what I have found, there’s a tremendous sense of according equity and equality in relation to women. Women are powerful in Kashmir, women take to the streets as much as men do. Women are fierce.

Often it is disproportionately men that have been targeted in Kashmir, that have been disappeared or killed in extrajudicial executions, all those that are buried in the unknown or mass graves.

It is women who then become the heads of households, and have to not only care for their families but also seek justice. Is it at the same time the larger patriarchal context of south Asia, does it apply to Kashmir? It applies to every part of south Asia: patriarchal, but also hereronormative. Is that what you were asking, or were you asking about sexual violence?

HOULAHAN

It’s more about the gender rights of women in Kashmir.

CHATTERJI

There have been incalculable gendered and sexualised violences perpetrated on women. I know young women who did not want to go to school. They love learning, but they don’t want to go to school, because at the entrance to the school there’s a checkpoint, there’s a soldier, they may be frisked, and they get exhausted by that because it’s violent, it’s abusive.

The ways in which the Indian forces relate to Kashmiri women is extremely dangerous. There’s a sense that the body of the woman is where one can—it becomes the battlefield.

And especially with the Hinduisation of the forces that we’ve been witnessing I would say since Ayodhya, the Hinduisation of the forces—there’s an added element to it, i think in India Islamophobia today has quite escalated.

It’s very, very difficult for women to perform daily tasks. And there have been no studies undertaken on rapes for example. The rapes we have witnessed, in Kunan-Poshpora for instance in 1991, justice is still pending. We saw a terrifying case of the rape and murder of an eight year old girl last year…

KAUL

I’m actually dying to say something here. Me and Ather Zia, another Kashmiri, we recently compiled a volume on women in Kashmir, the first ever written entirely by Kashmiri women scholars themselves. And the realities of it are astounding. There’s Kunan-Poshpora mass rapes, various instances of sexual violence, the competing patriarchies of militarisation and miltancy that women have to face.

But Kashmir is not backward when it comes to women’s rights, in fact compared to India it has always been progressive. (Applause)

In 1944 the new Kashmir manifesto – this is important for the world to know – it actually specifically had a whole section on gender rights which if you read it today sounds progressive and is. So Kashmiri women have always had their rights. This is a very colonial move on the part of nation-states around it, to claim that they are liberating Kashmiri women, as if they are mere territory. (Applause)

And in the aftermath of the revocation BJP leaders were saying “We’re going to now marry fair Kashmiri women…”


Andy Levin, Democrat from Michigan

Mr Bencosme I want to ask you about your organisation’s views about the situation going forward in Kashmir. The government of India is very eager to meet with me and all of us and tell us their view of things, but even so, people who use pay-as-you-go cell phones don’t have service restored, the internet is not restored, they’re still not letting foreign journalists in—how do you see the situation going forward with just the most basic elements of life, the healthcare situation and so forth, based on Amnesty’s work there?

BENCOSME

Unfortunately the situation on the ground is very dire. We mentioned issues of medical services, people we spoke to on the ground said because of the communications blockade there’s been a 50% drop in patients due to the lack of public transport for people to be able to reach hospitals, critical medications for advanced stages of many illnesses are not available, there are no post or courier services, all of which is really impacting the healthcare services inside Kashmir.

I think, looking forward, it will be really incumbent on the international community, on this body, on the administration, to really press upon the Indian government that this is not okay.

Irrespective of security concerns there needs to be a better balance between human rights and security, and there needs to be the release of any political prisoners in Kashmir, the communications blockade needs to be lifted, this situation needs to stop.

Frankly, I saw this morning’s testimony and thought there’s still a lot more the administration could be voicing with respect to Kashmir, oftentimes it holds back punches because of the importance of India’s place. (Applause)

LEVIN

As somebody who travelled to Kashmir and Ladakh over 30 years ago… it’s hard for me to take seriously the argument that this is being done for the economic development of Kashmir. (Loud applause) Can you or others speak to this argument, is tourism blossoming and so forth?

BENCOSME

It’s completely unthinkable to say that to increase tourism you’d block all communications inside the region, or arbitrarily detain political leaders, activists, even children as we’ve reported, for economic development purposes.

…This morning was the first time I’ve seen the State Department speak to the issue of Assam. Clearly they could be raising these issues privately, but it really holds to the importance of Congress to raising these issues, the fact that it’s really forcing the administration’s feet to the fire and speaking up on these issues.

LEVIN

We need to speak about human rights in public, and our administration needs to start doing that.


Susan Wild, Democrat from Pennsylvania

I too have a substantial population of people in my district who are very much concerned about this situation… It’s been very difficult for somebody like me to monitor the situation in Kashmir as it evolves, because of the crackdown on journalists and humanitarian aid workers and political leaders. I know that US Senator Chris van Hollen and a delegation of Indian opposition members were denied entry amidst what I understand to have been a blackout on communications within the state.

Historically, humanitarian aid workers and journalists and political leaders have been able to conduct their work even in active warzones. So what is the justification for the lack of transparency around these actions?

BENCOSME

We don’t think there is a legitimate justification for this lack of transparency. One of our calls is for there to be an independent investigation, a commission of inquiry if you will, whether by the UN or another international body, one that can really get to the bottom of what is going on. We have conducted our own research on the ground, we hold ourselves to the highest evidentiary basis and operate all around the world, and we have found arbitrary detention of not just political leaders but regular people in Kashmir: plumbers or food distributors, and even cases of children being detained, according to the Indian government for reasons of security and economic development…

KAUL

There’s no justification whatsoever for what they’re doing, and they know that, which is why it’s important for them not to let people speak. In fact, elderly women who were protesting in Srinagar were detained and released only on condition that they sign bonds that they won’t speak to the media, this is just two days ago. So fundamentally this is not about violent actors, it’s about knowing that what is being carried out is politically and constitutionally not right and doesn’t have the support of the people.

WILD

For me, when there isn’t transparency something is being hidden, and this is something that concerns me terribly. I’m on the outside, but to not be able to actually have accountability is very troubling to me…


Bradley Sherman, Democrat from California

The Indian government has justified the repeal of Article 370 as somehow a major step forward for women’s rights. They told me this is related to property rights, and how if a Muslim Kashmiri woman married a non-Kashmiri man—Ms Kaul, is the repeal of Article 370 somehow a step forward for women’s rights?

KAUL

Absolutely not. It is claimed that it will somehow enhance LGBTQ and women’s rights, as if the people whose rights are being enhanced are somehow not Kashmiris as well. Moreover there are already prior judgments of the courts: the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in October 2002 in the case of Susheela Sawhney struck down the proviso according to which women marrying outsiders would lose their permanent resident status. So this was already removed in 2002, and it is a red herring to say this is somehow going to help women’s rights. These are just instruments used to justify that emancipation and liberation narrative.

SHERMAN

It’s one thing to take away Kashmir’s unique status, where it had more autonomy than other states of India, but now as I understand it the Kashmir valley at least will be a union territory, where it will have less status than other states.

CHATTERJI

If the union territory is actually demarcated, you’re absolutely right it will have less status than it does now. The stated idea was for security and development, but Article 35A which allows Kashmiris to determine who is a resident and who can own land, that proviso is now gone, meaning non-Kashmiris may now be landowners in Kashmir. So their claim to the land itself might be vitiated, nullified over time.


ILHAN OMAR, Democrat from Minnesota

Ms Singh, a reporter’s job is to find the objective truth about what’s happening and report it to the public. You have an enormous audience at the Times of India and an enormous responsibility to get it right. I’m aware of how the narrative shaped by reporting can distort the truth. I’m also very aware of how it can be limited to sharing only the official side of the story. The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government.

In your version of the story, the only problems in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants. The only people protesting to break away from India are all nefariously backed by Pakistan. You also make the incredible dubious claim that the Indian government’s shutdown of Kashmir is good for human rights. If it was, it wouldn’t be happening in secret.

You make what I might call a feminist case for the occupation of Kashmir and the communications shutdowns, saying it will be better for women. Dr Chatterji, as co-chair of the Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at UC Berkeley you might be an expert on this critical issue. Do you agree with Ms Singh’s assertion that what’s happening in Kashmir since August has been good for women’s rights?

CHATTERJI

No, absolutely not. As you said, if it were good for anybody we would announce it to the world, it would be free, we’d be able to go there and enjoy it. Most importantly the people it’s been done to would be appreciative of it. But we’ve not had Kashmiris in Kashmir be appreciative.

They have said they feel like they’re being caged. They have said their rights are being revoked, they are terrified. When we talk about human rights in this instance—with the BJP government we also need to understand their ideology, because there is an ideological platform and assertion through which and because of which human rights are being violated.

If we simply focus on the human rights and try to ameliorate what is happening, that will not work. Because their mandate for the first time in India openly is to render India into a Hindu state.

OMAR

Mr Bencosme, I am sure you condemn terrorism as I do. Do you agree that one can think about the probability of Pakistan supporting terrorists, and the human rights violations in Pakistan, in a way that won’t negate our ability to hold India accountable for its behaviours in Kashmir?

BENCOSME

Absolutely.

OMAR

And how so?

BENCOSME

Every nation has the right to care about its integrity, and security issues in the country, but I think it’s a dubious claim that you need to shut down all forms of communication in order to have security in the Kashmir region. It’s dubious the idea that you have to lock up political leaders, activists, children. You don’t need to harass journalists to have security in the region. You can find a balance between the two.

OMAR

Dr Kaul, you have the distinction of being a scholar of both democracy and feminism… would you weigh in on this issue?

KAUL

Yes, I want to speak as a politics and international relations person, with that hat on. I just want to say you’re absolutely right, when we express concern about enforced disappearances in other parts of the world, that is precisely why we should care.

Parveena Ahangar, who is the chairperson of the Association for Parents of Disappeared Persons, whose son was a victim of that and she’s been leading that struggle for 20 plus years—on the International Day of the Disappeared this year they were not even allowed to gather and mourn, something they’ve done on the 10th of every month and the end of August.

This is an elderly woman, who has led this campaign and been nominated for the Nobel Prize. People, activists, peaceful people are not allowed that space. So everyone is being pushed towards this kind of…

As Angana pointed out, the Hindutva ideology, the political use of Hinduism—for religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for violence, no religion is, so this is not about Hinduism—it’s about the political use of Hinduism which is being made to convert India into a Hindu nation. Where after the revocation BJP leaders have said “we want to go to Kashmir and marry fair women now.” That’s literally the level at which this whole thing is, the exotic other.

And the reason that all of this continues, the question of territorial integrity, it’s really not simple. The British did what they did but we’re in the world now. The past is prologue, the future is the story we have to write right now.

It’s not a simple question of territorial integrity, because according to Article 370 Kashmir had its own constitution, its own flag, and control over all affairs—except in defence, telecommunications and external affairs Kashmir was autonomous. That autonomy has been literally taken away overnight, that was the article keeping the dispute in some sort of frozen zone, now that’s gone. And now we’re fearing the worst is to come.


Ted Lieu, Democrat from California

(After two questions about increasing persecution of Christians and other non Hindus under the Modi government.)

We had this communications blackout of Kashmir, that is a human rights violation… It had to have been the case that a lot of people would have died, because if you had a heart attack or stroke you would need an ambulance, and if there’s no communications you can’t get that ambulance, isn’t that right?

CHATTERJI and KAUL

Yes.

LIEU

So just on its face it’s unbelievable when the Indian government says that no one died because of the communications blackout?

KAUL

There’s no way of knowing. There was one doctor [Omar Salim] who was publicly speaking out against this and he was whisked away in front of the cameras [on August 26] because he was warning about the shortage of medicines, and the fact that people who are suffering from life threatening illnesses are dying.

CHATTERJI

I want to add that when the state itself, its officials are seen as perpetrators, and we turn to the same officials to provide justice, it becomes very problematic. This is one of the reasons that Kashmiris repeatedly want this matter, their matter to be internationalised. This is one of the reasons that we need international attention and scrutiny. (Applause)

LIEU

And in addition to the communications blackout they were actually using force against the Kashmiris, including pellet guns?

CHATTERJI

Yes.

LIEU

I want to submit a CNN report for the record: On August 10 Farooq Ahmed Qureshi walked out of his home to buy bread from his local bakery. He found himself in the middle of a demonstration, he started moving towards the bakery shop, and then he heard a sound and blood started oozing from his left eye. “I fell down and started crying in pain. The doctors told me I had been hit in my eye. They told me I had little chance of regaining my sight as three pellets had seriously damaged my eye”…

On August 5 alone there were 30 cases of eye injuries reported to this hospital. The Indian government is essentially blinding Kashmiris, isn’t it, with these pellet guns?

CHATTERJI

Yes. May I add something else to this? We’ve talked a lot about terrorism and infiltration today, and by the government’s own admission, the state’s own records say about active militants in Jammu and Kashmir that in some years it’s been 1300, in some years 300, in some 170, or 450—this is a very small amount, and disproportionate in relation to the army and paramilitary and police forces that are actually stationed in Kashmir.

LIEU

Thank you, and let me just conclude by saying that if Secretary [of State] Pompeo wants to uphold his commitment to religious freedom, he needs to have a serious conversation with the government of India. (Sustained applause)


Pramila Jayapal, Democrat from Washington

Reports show that over 4,000 people were arrested following the decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and one of those individuals is Dr Mubeen Shah, the uncle of one of my constituents in Seattle. Amnesty International has said that the Public Safety Act, which allows for detention for up to two years, “circumvents the criminal justice system in Jammu and Kashmir to undermine transparency and respect for human rights".

I’m very concerned about the things you mentioned about human rights organisations being targeted by the Indian government. Can you tell us how the PSA contributes to inflaming tensions between the state authorities and local Kashmiris?

BENCOSME

People we spoke to on the ground say that what they’re afraid of is the Indian security forces. They feel that many of their voices have been taken away from them. One person we spoke to feels that politics as they know it is now dead in Jammu and Kashmir, because their entire political leadership has either been detained or been forced to sign away any affiliation with politics. The fact that people who wanted to peacefully protest were either being harassed or detained inflames the situation and makes it less likely that they will achieve their aims.

JAYAPAL

And how have you seen the police using the law specifically to secure the detention of suspects who’ve been released, or are likely to be released on bail?

BENCOSME

A lot of these laws are vague or don’t define what “national security” or a “threat to the Indian state” means, so they’ve been abused by the security forces to arbitrarily detain not just political leaders but also activists and in some cases children. There’s no potential for recourse, and many of the few who have spoken up have been harassed, or their families have been harassed, after the fact

JAYAPAL

Have you found in your work that the document the Indian government has people sign as a condition for their release requires them never again to enter into political activities, is that accurate?

BENCOSME

Yes, and we’ve recorded several instances of that and actually seen the sheet ourselves, and from the Amnesty perspective that’s a violation of political speech and freedom of expression.

JAYAPAL

Absolutely. Tell me, why do the police favour the use of the PSA over criminal processes, especially following the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir?

BENCOSME

In the 42 years of its existence the PSA has been used for things like administrative detentions and multiple violations of human rights, so it’s a way of circumventing the criminal process that’s in place. It makes it a lot easier for them to circumvent the rule of law in India.

JAYAPAL

The Indian government claims that people are being released expeditiously and things are returning to normal. By Amnesty International estimates, how many people remain in detention without charge?

BENCOSME

Thousands.

JAYAPAL

But we heard hundreds earlier?

BENCOSME

I remember hearing that and i thought that estimate was far too low. Our documentation on the ground says otherwise. And those are just the ones we know of, because a lot of these people have been intimidated or otherwise silenced for fear of reprisals.

JAYAPAL

So thousands of people are still being held in detention. What do you think are the most important things that Congress should be doing to advocate for fair treatment of people in detention in Jammu and Kashmir?

BENCOSME

Holding more hearings like this, raising more letters, resolutions, asking for more congressional visits—the Indian government cares about what the US Congress has to say, so the more noise it can make the more powerful the signal.

JAYAPAL

On Tuesday of last week over a dozen women were arrested for holding a sit-in in Srinagar against the ending of the state’s special status, and media reports indicate they were released on Thursday after posting personal bonds. The police chief in Srinagar reportedly responded that no further protests can take place. Dr Kaul, what are the implications of this crackdown on protests in Srinagar, and do you expect that peaceful protests will continue?

KAUL

It is very hard for people to register how they feel. The two key words here are consent and dissent. The consent of the people has not been taken into account, it’s not being allowed to be expressed, and dissent against what has been done is not allowed either, in India as well.

In India there are several Indian activists who’ve been speaking up against what’s happening and what India is doing in Kashmir, and they also have been targeted for saying these things, especially women activists. If anyone dissents they are labelled anti national…

The thing here with America, which has this important history, is to recognise that at this present moment democracy and human rights are under threat globally. It is not the unique preserve of America, I must say: all anti colonial struggles in human history have been carried out in the name of human rights.

So we must acknowledge the capacity of people, including in Asia, to be able to know and speak for rights, and that is what they are doing. But when they are crushing it like that, it becomes our duty, as people who recognise that these political projects are feeding off each other—

It’s important for American foreign policy to also realise that what’s happening is going to destabilise. Increased violence and radicalised violence in Kashmir is not a problem for radicalised actors including statist actors in India. And that is going to be a disaster, because there is a large minority population of Muslims in India.

The fact that people keep referring to the Kashmir valley as a Muslim region being the only problem—there is a reason why Genocide Watch put this on alert, becuse winter is coming—these are real concerns is all I want to say.


Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona

In my experience, and I’ve actually served in the US Marine Corps in Anbar in the middle of an insurgency, throughout my time there and the height of the insurgency I don’t remember there ever being a communications blackout imposed by the US or Iraqi government… So it’s disturbing what I’m hearing…

It is the role of many of us in Congress to conduct oversight of government functions as well as our friends and allies across the world, we have a duty to ask questions, and I think this has been a very important step in that direction…

 


Transcribed from the video available here.

 

 

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