U.S. congressional panel to discuss situation in Kashmir

Published : October 19, 2019 14:54 IST

At the recent Kashmir Human Rights Foundation briefing for congressional staff members in Washington, D.C., before the congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia on October 22. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ahead of a crucial United States congressional hearing on South Asia on October 22, which “will focus on the Kashmir Valley”, the Kashmiri diaspora is busy briefing key rights activists about the developing political situation in the locked-down Kashmir valley.

The Kashmir Human Rights Foundation (KHRF), a California based not-for-profit organisation started 30 years ago, recently held a briefing in Capitol Hill to share insight on the situation in Kashmir with those who are slated to testify in the hearing. The congressional hearing has been organised under the auspices of a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the topic for discussion is human rights in South Asia.

The prominence being attached to the current impasse in Kashmir following the revocation of its special status was conveyed by the subcommittee’s chair, Congressman Brad Sherman. In a statement issued to the press, he said: “The hearing will focus on the Kashmir Valley, where many political activists have been arrested and daily life, the Internet and telephone communications have been interrupted. The hearing will also review the humanitarian situation in Kashmir and whether Kashmiris have adequate supplies of food, medicine and other essentials.”

Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, who oversees all State Department policy towards South Asia, will testify at the hearing. Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Scott Busby, who oversees human rights efforts in South Asia, will also testify. Several State Department officials and other private human rights activists too are expected to testify at the hearing.

The KHRF briefing had in its panel well-respected figures from a spectrum of professions, such as the eminent journalist Victoria Schofield who has written a best-selling book on Kashmir; Huma Dar, a professor at Berkeley University who has done extensive research on Kashmir; and Kashmiri American lawyers Sehla Ashai and Sareer Fazili. The KHRF briefing also saw the attendance of more than 130 congressional staff members. The panelists acquainted them with the Kashmir conflict, the demand of self-determination, and human rights abuses in Kashmir. The staff were also briefed about the siege that millions of Kashmiris were undergoing for more than two months now.

Asif Mahmood, a popular democratic leader, speaking at the briefing, condemned India’s actions in Kashmir. He urged India to immediately stop human rights violations in Kashmir. He told Frontline: “It was an important briefing as we had to prepare the U.S. congressional staff for the upcoming hearing and had to make sure that they have enough information to prepare for the hearing”.

Majid Butt, an American from Kashmir, opened the session at the briefing. Talking to Frontline, he said: “The purpose of the briefing was to raise awareness about India’s ‘atrocities’ in Kashmir. India has shackled every inch of Kashmir with its barbed wire and blocked every means of communication to suppress our voices, but our voices have been heard and we are now gearing up for the upcoming congressional hearing.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Brad Sherman said: “In August, I had an opportunity to meet with Americans from Kashmir Valley in the San Fernando Valley, along with my colleague Congressman André Carson (Democrat, Indiana). We heard stories of difficulties encountered by my constituents and others, and the fears they have for their loved ones. Since then I have had several meetings with Kashmiri Americans. I look forward to learning more about human rights in Kashmir.”

The hearing will also focus on the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the Sindh Province, and the Muslims in Assam.