Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing on human rights in South Asia – only, it was essentially all about Kashmir, the abrogation of Article 370 and the communications blockade.
One panellist did talk about human rights violations in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh, and Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Advisory Manager on the panel briefly touched on Myanmar and Bangladesh in the context of Rohingya refugees – but the vast majority of the three-hour hearing was spent on India’s actions in Kashmir.
By way of addressing the clear Kashmir bias, subcommittee chair Brad Sherman did open by saying, “Kashmir is not the only issue in South Asia, but it’s the one that is in the news and attracting attention around the country.”
‘Foreign Press Doesn’t Get the Historical Context of Kashmir’
Two panellists supported the Indian government’s actions, so to speak, arguing that the reports of human rights violations – particularly in the foreign press – did not take into account the real threat of Islamist militancy, and overstated issues like medicine shortages. These were Aarti Tikoo Singh, Senior Assistant Editor at Times of India, and Ravi Batra, Chair of the National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs.
Singh made a strong point, saying that the foreign press seems totally uninterested in covering the fatalities and attacks by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir, seeming only to focus on the Indian state’s counter-actions.
‘India Headed the Germany Way’
The critics of the Indian government included Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager Francisco Bencosme; Nitasha Kaul, Associate Professor at the University of Westminster in London; and Angana Chatterji, Co-chair of Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the Centre for Race and Gender Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The two academics argued that the ‘secular democracy of India’ was headed down a dark path, with the abrogation of Article 370 and attendant communications lockdown in Kashmir. The National Register of Citizens was also brought up by the academics and by Bencosme, calling attention to the almost two million people left off the list and ‘facing statelessness’.
In the middle, speaking about Pakistan’s human rights violations – serving as what turned out to be only a minor diversion from the Kashmir-focussed hearing – was Fatima Gul, a Sindhi-American activist, who called for Pakistan to put an end to its blasphemy laws and state-sponsored ‘disappearances’ of Sindhis, Hazaras, Ahmedis, Balochis and other religious and ethnic minorities.