New Delhi: Six members of the US Congress’ House foreign relations committee have written to Indian ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla asking some tough questions and seeking clarifications about the situation in Kashmir following restrictions ahead of the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August.
The move comes soon after the US State Department earlier this week sought a roadmap from India on normalising the situation in Kashmir, including the release of local Kashmiri politicians held in preventive custody and the restoration of telephone and internet services.
The letter dated 24 October also comes after US lawmakers Ilhan Omar, Ted Yoho, Abigail Spanberger and Mike Fitzpatrick, at a hearing titled “Human Rights in South Asia" in Washington last week, expressed concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir and urged India to lift restrictions on movement of people, communications, and detention of political leaders.
India in its response had described the expressions of concern and questions as “regrettable" displaying what it said was “a very limited understanding of India’s history, her pluralistic society, constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights for all Indian citizens and the robust institutions operating in the world’s largest democracy."
News of the letter came on a day prime minister Narendra Modi hailed the conduct of Block Development Council polls in Kashmir, the first round of polls after Article 370 was scrapped and the special status given to Kashmir under the constitution revoked. He also welcomed the voter turnout in these elections.
The abrogation of Article 370 also led to the creation of two separate union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir that will now be administered by New Delhi. On Friday, a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said G.C. Murmu would be the lieutenant governor of Kashmir and Radha Krishna Mathur would be the lieutenant governor of Ladakh.
Signed by David Cicilline, Dina Titus, Andy Levin, Susan Wild, Chrissy Houlahan and James McGovern, the letter sought to know whether the Indian government would allow US Congressmen or any other foreign officials to visit Kashmir. It said the queries came in the wake of differences between the picture of Kashmir presented by Shringla and constituents of the US lawmakers.
The letter sought to know whether communication links — landline, prepaid mobiles and internet — have been fully restored. If not, by when they will be completely restored.
The US lawmakers have asked how many people have been detained under the Public Safety Act and how many are minors among the detainees. They have also sought details as to when curbs on the movement of people would be completely lifted.
The letter also sought to know whether rubber bullets were being used by security personnel to control the crowd and whether the bullets were responsible for blinding people including children. “What is the Indian government doing to ensure the rights of peaceful protestors," the letter asked.
It also asked why foreign journalists were not allowed in Kashmir and by when they would be allowed.
“We believe true transparency can only be achieved when journalists and Members of Congress are allowed free access to the region," the letter added.