A top US official raised concerns regarding some of Indian government’s actions – including the restrictions on freedom of expression – that are inconsistent with India’s democratic values, at a Congressional hearing on Democracy in the Indo-Pacific region.
Dean Thompson, the acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, brought up the issue on Wednesday, 9 June, at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation.
News agency PTI quoted Thompson as saying, “India remains the world’s largest democracy with a strong rule of law and independent judiciary and enjoys a strong and growing strategic partnership with the United States.”
“However, some of the Indian government’s actions have raised concerns that are inconsistent with India’s democratic values,” he added.
Referring to the increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and the detention of activists and journalists, Thompson said that the US regularly engages in and on these issues, while also noting the important work of civil society.
India has previously rejected criticism by international governments and human rights groups on allegations that civil liberties have dwindled in the country. The Indian government has repeatedly emphasised that the Indian constitution provides for adequate safeguards under various statutes for ensuring the protection of human rights for all its people.
Responding to a question from lawmakers, Thompson said the US has been concerned in Pakistan and Bangladesh about some restrictions faced by journalists there. “Similarly, at times, that has happened in India; though, I think, India, we can say, has a very vibrant press overall that reports very freely on its government,” he said, according to PTI.
US Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, who represents a Congressional district from Pennsylvania, brought up the issue of Kashmir at the hearing. “Although of course, they’re two great democracies, democracies including ours and India’s are not without their flaws and problems. I do have a pretty big (number of) Kashmiris in my community and there is, of course, concern about the treatment of the Kashmir people,” she said.
Houlahan enquired about the dialogue on human rights issues in the area, between their administration and the Indian government.
Thompson responded saying that the Biden administration routinely raises issues related to a vast array of rights and democratic issues with India.
“Kashmir is one area where we have urged them to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, including we’ve seen some steps taken: The release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other electoral steps we’d like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”Dean Thompson, US Department of State, as per PTI