An Indian-American Commissioner from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on Thursday told the Philip Lantos Human Rights Commission that rights of Muslims are being curtailed because of the Centre’s actions in Kashmir.
Arunima Bhargava told the Commission, “ 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.”
On Jammu and Kashmir, Bhargava said “USCIRF [United States Commission on International Religious Freedom] 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 health care and other basic services.”
She said mobile and internet services were denied to Kashmiris and healthcare was withheld by the Centre. “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.
Kashmiri columnist and political commentator Sunanda Vashisht however defended the government’s decision to revoke the special status. “The Indian Constitution which is modelled on the US Constitution, is the most liberal document in the world,” she said at the hearing. “The Constitution was not applicable in totality until Article 370 was in force, ” she is quoted as saying.
Vashisht said terrorists trained by Pakistan have been unleashing “ISIS level of horror and brutality” in the Valley much before the West was even introduced to the brutalities of radical Islamic terror. “I am glad these hearings are happening here today because when my family and everyone like me lost our homes our livelihood and our way of life the world remained silent,” Vashisht said.
“All deaths have been happening due to terrorists trained by Pakistan,” she alleged. “This doublespeak is not helping India in any way.”
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, in a written submission told the Commission, “ The Indian government has largely dismissed the international attention, calling the July UN report, for instance, a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.” There are legitimate security concerns about militant groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan has supported militant groups that have carried out attacks. This, however, does not absolve Indian authorities of holding to account security forces responsible for serious violations of human rights.”
Sifton added, “India has advanced a narrative that its main purpose in revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status, a longtime goal of the BJP, was economic development. India’s ambassador to the US wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that its actions in August were intended to “deliver social and economic justice.” So far, however, we have only seen an intensification of the repression of Kashmir’s population.”
Summing up the debate, an American academic tweeted tongue in cheek:
Indian government: "It is not for other countries to comment on India's internal affairs
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Indian intelligence (allegedly): Please enjoy our online disinformation network aimed at you!