Indian-American Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal tables resolution in U.S. House on easing of restrictions on Kashmir

The resolution urges India to lift the remaining restrictions on communication and to restore internet access across all of Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible.

Updated - December 08, 2019 11:20 pm IST

Published - December 08, 2019 09:55 am IST - Washington:

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democrat Washington.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democrat Washington.

As India stepped up its efforts to lobby Congressional Democrats, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pramila Jayapal, introduced a bi-partisan resolution in the House calling for an end to the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir and for the Government of India to respect international human rights law.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Steve Watkins, a first time Republican Congressman from Kansas, says the U.S. House of Representatives, “recognizes the dire security challenges faced by the Government and India in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing threat of state-supported cross-border terrorism,” and that the House,  “rejects arbitrary detention, use of excessive force against civilians, and suppression of peaceful expression of dissent as proportional responses to security challenges.”  The House, as per the resolution, urges the government to adhere to international human rights law in its pursuit of “legitimate security priorities”.

The resolution urges the Government of India to quickly release those arbitrarily detained;  “lift the remaining restrictions on communications and to restore internet access” across the region; “refrain from the use of threats and excessive force” against detainees and those protesting peacefully; refrain from conditioning the release of detainees on them signing bonds prohibiting political speeches and activities.

Ms Jayapal’s resolution asks the government to allow international human rights observers and journalists into Jammu and Kashmir and to operate freely across India, without threats.

It also urges the Government of India to “condemn, at the highest levels, all religiously motivated violence, including that violence which targets against religious minorities.”

In its introduction, the resolution notes the “unique and important” relationship between the U.S. and India and refers to India being the birthplace of four major world religions.

The resolution has just been tabled thus far and has to go through a process before it is put to vote. However, Indian officials questioned how much support it would get from the Republicans.

“Indian embassy staff had met with Steve Watkins’s key staffers on a number of occasions and were categorically told by them that he would not be signing on to the resolution and that the Republican caucus was not in favour of the resolution,” a spokesperson for the Indian Embassy told The Hindu .

Ms Jayapal , who is Chennai-born and represents the 7the Congressional district from Washington state, is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Recent issues she has supported include legislation to prevent the separation of migrant families at the U.S. border, stricter background checks for firearm transfers between individuals and the monitoring China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

“I hope to work with the Indian government and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen the U.S.-India partnership, while protecting the human rights of the Kashmiri people,” Ms Jayapal said on Saturday.

Ms Jayapal also welcomed the release from jail on Friday of Mubeen Shah, a Kashmiri-origin, Malaysia-based businessman, who was  detained under the Public Safety Act. Mr Shah’s niece had approached Ms Jayapal about the case.

“After hearing from his niece, Nafisa Muzaffar, I repeatedly pressed senior officials from the Indian government and the U.S. State Department in private meetings and public hearings about Dr. Shah’s case,” Ms Jayapal said in a statement released by her office.

Indian officials have taken to explaining the Indian position to a number of U.S. lawmakers at federal and state level as Capitol Hill’s scrutiny of the restrictions in Kashmir began since Article 370 was abrogated by Parliament in early August.

The Indian Ambassador, his deputy and the Consul General in San Francisco met on separate occasions with Ms. Jayapal in the recent past to brief her on the situation and to explain to her that restrictions in Kashmir had been significantly eased, Indian officials told The Hindu .

“She has however remained rigid in her position, from when she initiated this resolution, until its tabling a few days ago. As such, the resolution is imbalanced, factually incorrect and prejudicial to the close and cooperative relations and strategic partnership that India and the United States enjoy,” the officials said.

“The longer these detentions drag on, the more you will hear not just in the United States but around the world from voices who, again, have been supportive of India more generally,” Alyssa Ayres, a former high ranking U.S. diplomat for South Asia, now with the Centre on Foreign Relations, told The Hindu .

“My sense is that there is broad sympathy for the terrorism challenge India has faced from Pakistan. But that question, four months on from August 5, is to some extent separable from the concerns this new legislation addresses: concerns for the indefinite detention of Kashmiris without charges, and the communications block remaining,” Ms Ayres said.

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