Indian Government and journalist at the receiving end in the US Congress over Kashmir
Government of India and a senior Indian journalist found themselves at the receiving end of a tough round of questioning on conditions in Kashmir on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
During a Congressional hearing on Human Rights in South Asia, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar reacted sharply to the submission of senior Indian journalist Arti Tikoo Singh and said, “Ms Singh, a reporter's job is to find the objective truth about what is happening and report it to the public. You have an enormous audience at The Times of India and you have an enormous responsibility to get it right. ...The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government.
The Congresswoman added, “ 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; and are all nefariously backed by Pak. You also make the incredible dubious claim that the Indian government's crackdown in Kashmir is good for human rights. If it was good for human rights, Ms Singh, it wouldn't be happening in secret...”
The Indian journalist later complained that the hearing was prejudiced and that she had been censored. She targeted the Democrats in the House and said they did not want to hear the truth about Kashmir.
Commentators were taken aback at the sharp exchanges and felt that never since 1998 had the Indian Government come under such sharp scrutiny in any US Congressional hearing. Tweeted commentator Vipin Narang, “ I've been listening to this hearing since it began and it is going far worse for the Government of India than it (or I) would have possibly expected. The US Congress's concerns are intense, and not going away. This isn't just a liberal media creation.”
Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State and Robert A. Destro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, defended Government of India’s actions in Kashmir but also voiced their concern over continued restrictions. A part of the hearing streamed live shows how tough was their questioning..
Brad Sherman: Have we tried to send US diplomats? Alice Wells: We have attempted to send a delegation but not recd permission. Indians are taking a conservative approach to opening up Kashmir.
Abigail Spanberger: Have spoken to the Indian government and to my constituents from Kashmir. There are two conflicting accounts. How are we getting the truth? Wells: There is very real hardship & inconvenience. When you don't have open media and communication, makes it hard for even the government.
Abigail Spanberger: Indian government said the communication shutdown is security based. Do we have credible examples? Wells: Cannot comment. Spanberger: I will move for a classified hearing on this. Sherman agrees with her.
Ilhan Omar: Under Modi's Hindu nationalism project, US partnership with India based on values has been threatened. Wells: Disagree that we don’t have a value-based partnership. Actions he took were approved in Parliament, Supreme Court is reviewing the decision, institutions are working.
Pramila Jaypal brings up the case of bizman Mubeen Shah detained under PSA, asking if State department has raised his case with India. Wells: We have explicitly raised the case of Shah. Response is that he is receiving medication. Jayapal: That's not what his family and doctors say.
Wells: I don't have accurate numbers on detentions.
Brown: What tools are we using to leverage if India doesn't change their behavior? Wells: We have a wide-ranging strategic relationship. India is country of 1.3 billion, survived 4 external wars, emergency, Maoist insurgency. this is not a relationship of dictation but of partnership.
Trone: How can Kashmiris express dissent? Destro: To use the existing indian law, functioning courts. Due process takes a while. Tribunals are open and people can make their defenses when they are charged. Jackson Lee: Is this a humanitarian crisis (in Kashmir)? Destro: Yes, it is. To individual families, it’s a disaster. The human part of the human rights gets overlooked and this is the human part.
Trone: Foreign journalists are also not being allowed in Kashmir. They don't want open communications. Wells: It’s a complex situation. But the trade-off being made – individual liberty vs national security – is not ok.
Apart from Kashmir, NRC and growing religious intolerance came up several times during the hearing.
Ilhan Omar: Under Modi and BJP, all of US-India shared values have been threatened. We have to see it as part of the hindu nationalism project of the BJP. Reffering to NRC, she says: Clear anti-Muslim prog. Govt has is building camps. This is how the Rohingya genocide started. Are we waiting for them to be put in camps?
Wells– This dates to SC ruling which ordered the govt to do so to address illegal immigration, a process that continues
Ilhan Omar: Statements made against minorities should be extremely alarming. The excuse that we don’t police other democracies shouldn’t be acceptable. Brad Sherman: Human Rights abuse doesn’t cease to be abuse just coz maybe inconsistent with Indian law.
Yoho: Are there religions that are being treated unfairly in India? Destro – Most religious groups are treated fairly but there is pressure to make special rules for Muslims. We are calling them out. India’s constitution provides for secularism and we want the same to continue.