With a hearing on Kashmir at the U.S. House of Representatives scheduled for November 14, the choppy waters on Capitol Hill that India has found itself in, at least since the October 22 hearing on human rights in South Asia, do not seem to be letting up.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan commission, will hold a hearing “to examine the human rights situation in the former State of Jammu and Kashmir in India in historical and national context,” a statement from the Commission’s website said.
“Witnesses will examine the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the context of the region’s history and larger patterns of rights violations in India and Pakistan, and will offer recommendations for action by Congress,” the Commission said, outlining the restrictions from the Indian side placed on Kashmir since Article 370 was abrogated by Parliament in early August.
‘Article 370 hampering development in J&K’
“The increased militarisation of the security presence in the region and the economic and social consequences of the central government’s actions, including continuing restrictions on internet and phones, have also provoked widespread concern,” the statement read. “In addition, militants have targeted migrant workers from outsider Kashmir, and have threatened businesses to maintain a protest shutdown.”
Indian diplomats have, since the legislative changes in early August, been doing the rounds of Capitol Hill as well as lobbying at the state and district level via the Consuls General, highlighting the government’s position on the changes in Kashmir issue – that Article 370 was hampering development in Jammu and Kashmir and therefore had to go, and that restrictions, which have been progressively eased, are in place for security reasons.
These arguments did not stop the criticism at the October 22 hearing. Members of Congress were focussed on continuing restrictions on mobile data and internet access in Kashmir, the numbers still in detention and foreign correspondents not being allowed access to the region. This prompted renewed diplomatic outreach by Indian officials, including India’s U.S. Ambassador meeting with U.S lawmakers on October 29 and October 30.
List of witnesses
The Indian side has concerns about Thursday’s hearing, including that the list of witnesses largely comprises known critics of the Indian position, The Hindu has learned.
One witness, Yousra Y Fazili, a human rights lawyer, is the niece of one of those detained in Kashmir, Mubeen Shah. The Commission website describes Ms. Fazili as a “Human rights lawyer and Kashmiri-American cousin of Mubeen Shah, detained Kashmiri businessman.”
The Hindu asked a Commission representative for a response to the criticism that it was one-sided.
“The Commission’s mandate is to promote, defend and advocate for internationally recognised human rights norms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Kimberly Stanton, a spokesperson for the Commission told The Hindu. “The ‘side’ the Commission takes on all issues is that of individuals and communities who credibly allege that their rights have been violated.”
The witness list also includes Sunanda Vashisht, who the Commission describes as a “writer, political commentator, and Kashmiri Hindu who identifies as a victim of ethnic cleansing.”
A Commissioner from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Arunima Bhargava, will testify in the first of two panels at the hearing. The second panel will include human rights lawyers, a professor of anthropology and John Stifton, a director at Human Rights Watch.
Short notice around the hearing
Another issue for the Indian side has been the short notice around the hearing, which was posted on Monday — three days before the hearing itself.
“Commission hearings are posted once the description of the topic and initial witness list receive final approval. In this case, the hearing was finalised over the weekend and posted on the holiday [Monday],” Ms. Stanton told The Hindu.
The panel, is headed by James P. McGovern (Democrat, Massachusetts) and Chris Smith (Republican, New Jersey), and is mostly comprised of Democrats, who have, typically, been more vocal in their criticism of India’s recent actions around Kashmir.
“We are working hard to level the playing field,” India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla told The Hindu, about current diplomatic efforts around Thursday’s hearing, but did not elaborate on how this was being done.