Weeks ahead of its Asia Subcommittee hearing on human rights in South Asia, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) said the communications shutdown is having a “devastating impact“ on Kashmiris and called for restrictions to be lifted.
“India’s communication blackout in Kashmir is having a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of everyday Kashmiris. It’s time for India to lift these restrictions and afford Kashmiris the same rights and privileges as any other Indian citizen,” the HFAC tweeted.
The HFAC account had posted a report by the New York Times that described the death of 22-year-old Amir Farooq Dar. Dar had died 16 hours after being bitten by a snake, because his family could not get him anti-venom in time because of severe communications and movement restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir following the Centre’s move on Article 370.
On October 8 morning, co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, Mark Warner, said he was “disturbed” by the restrictions, referencing the same story on Twitter. “While I understand India has legitimate security concerns, I am disturbed by its restrictions on communications and movement within Jammu and Kashmir. I hope India will live up to its democratic principles by allowing freedom of press, information, and political participation,” Mr. Warner wrote.
The Senator is a powerful backer of India and the India-U.S. relationship, and his comments therefore have added significance. Earlier in 2019, he had pushed for legislation that would give India Major Non-NATO Ally status, facilitating the sales of defence equipment to India. Mr. Warner had also joined his caucus co-chair John Cornyn in writing to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in April asking him to delay revoking India’s access to the U.S.’ Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential market access programme, until elections in India were completed.
The State Department’s top South and Central Asia diplomat, Alice Wells, will be among those testifying at an October 22 HFAC Asia Subcommittee hearing , expected to focus on human rights in Kashmir, The Hindu recently reported.
The Subcommittee, headed by Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, will also discuss the rights of Muslims in Assam (where the National Register of Citizens, finalised at the end of August, excluded over 1.9 million people ), Tamils in Sri Lanka and the human rights situation in Pakistan especially in the Sindh Province.
Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted about the issue on October 5, asking for the rights of Kashmiris to be respected and saying the India-U.S. relationship has always been rooted in “shared democratic values”.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” in a September 26 report accompanying the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2020.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made a series of appearances at Washington DC think-tanks last week, articulating, among other things, India’s position on Kashmir and defending the government’s imposition of restrictions there.