WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s bipartisan resolution calling on India to respect the religious freedom of all residents in Jammu and Kashmir and to expeditiously life the communications blockade in the valley, has garnered some traction.
On Dec. 11, less than a week after Jayapal (D.-Wash.) — the first Indian American woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives —introduced her resolution with U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins (R.-Ks.) to urge India “to preserve religious freedom for all and end communications blockade and mass detentions in Jammu & Kashmir,” Watkins took to the House floor to urge New Delhi to “uphold the democratic values” upon which the country was founded even as he expressed concern over the continuing tension and alleged human rights violations in the Valley post the revocation of Article 370 that provided for special status to this only Muslim-majority state.
Watkins in his soliloquy, said, "Madam Speaker, today I rise in support of democracy and freedom for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the importance of protecting religious minorities in the region.”
He said, since “the Indian government rescinded Article 370 of their Constitution, repealing autonomy of the region,”the valley “has been cut off through widespread communications blackouts.”
“There have been curfews, and some 4,000 people have been detained, which includes children as young as 9 years old," he alleged and also spoke of reports of “human rights abuses and deaths resulting from inaccessibility to healthcare.”
Watkins said, "Madam Speaker, this situation cannot stand, and I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting H Res. 745, which urges the Indian Government to uphold the democratic values upon which it was founded.”
He followed it up with a tweet, saying, "Yesterday was Human Rights Day and I'm proud to support human rights and democracy in Kashmir. I urge my colleagues to support H R 745.”
Two days later, six more lawmakers, including five Democrats — Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas), Jan Schakowsky (Illinois), Emanuel Cleaver (Missouri), David Cicilline (Rhode Island), and Andre Carson (Indiana) — and one Republican, Jim Banks (Indiana) joined in as co-sponsors of Jayapal’s resolution.
Meanwhile, the Chennai-born Jayapal, 54, who is the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House, on Dec. 9, three days after introducing her resolution and one day after hailing the temporary release of a prominent Kashmiri Muslim business leader — an uncle of one of her constituents —applauded the permanent release of Dr. Mubeen Shah, whose niece Nafisa Muzaffar had implored Jayapal to intervene on behalf of Shah who she said had “been detained without due process and denied medical care.”
Jayapal said, “I’m so happy for Dr. Shah and his entire family, especially his niece and my constituent, Nafisa. This is a huge victory for justice, and I’m glad the Indian Government has finally heeded my call to grant Dr. Shah permanent release.”
“Now, India must end the arbitrary detentions of the thousands of others it has imprisoned in Kashmir without any due process. It must end the abuse of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. It must lift restrictions on cell phones and internet access, protect free speech and peaceful protest, and condemn all religiously motivated violence at the highest levels across India,” she said.
Jayapal declared, “As two democracies with a special and critical relationship, it’s more important than ever to ensure human rights are protected regardless of the circumstances.”
When Shah was granted temporary release, Jayapal said, “It’s a big step forward for justice that Dr. Shah has been granted a temporary release after four months of being detained without any due process — a clear violation of his human rights.”
She recalled, “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. Dr. Shah’s detention without charges by the Indian government is one of thousands of deeply unjust detentions without explanation or due process. I call on the Indian government to grant Dr. Shah a permanent release so he can travel outside the country and obtain the medical care he so desperately needs — and end its arbitrary detentions and abuse of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.”
According to Jayapal’s office, citing news reports, after revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and autonomy, the Indian government has arrested and held at least 4,000 people under the Public Safety Act (PSA) — a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone in Jammu and Kashmir for up to two years without charge or trial.
Shah’s release, the Congresswoman’s office said, was “the first reported release of a person detained under the PSA” and claimed that it was a direct consequence of Jayapal’s introduction of her bipartisan Resolution 745 with Watkins, the original co-sponsor.
When she introduced her resolution, Jayapal said, “As the world’s largest democracy, India shares a unique and important relationship with the United States. I’m proud to have lived my own life in the world’s two greatest democracies — as a citizen of India for 35 years, and now as a proud American citizen and member of Congress.”
She said, “I have fought to strengthen this special U.S.-India relationship, which is why I am deeply concerned by the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir.”
Jayapal argued, “Detaining people without charge, severely limiting communications, and blocking neutral third parties from visiting the region is harmful to our close, critical bilateral relationship. India must quickly lift restrictions on cell phones and internet access, release arbitrarily detained people, protect free speech and peaceful protest, and condemn all religiously motivated violence at the highest levels across India.”
“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,” she pledged.
On Oct. 22, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia on the ‘State of Human Rights on South Asia,’ Jayapal, although not a member of the Committee, was afforded the courtesy of questioning State Department officials appearing before the Committee and called on them to address human rights issues in Jammu and Kashmir, including the mass detentions without due process and communications blockade.
During the hearing, she pressed Assistant Secretary of State Alice G. Wells for answers about the case of Dr. Shah and pressed the State Department to act with a sense of urgency.
Immediately after this hearing, the right wing of the Hindutva fringe in the U.S., has launched a scurrilous attack on Jayapal for her pointed and tough questioning of the senior Trump administration officials, and after she made clear that she had a resolution in the works, the majority diaspora community began imploring her not to go through with it, but she introduced it nonetheless.
An Indian agency report said that “soon after her announcement on the proposed resolution, the Indian American community approached her against it. The community reached out to her in large numbers over phone calls to her office, wrote emails and met in person. In October, about 80 community members called on Jayapal's office urging her to restrain from negatively viewing the situation in Kashmir.”
It said, “Her office received thousands of emails and letters from Indian-Americans against her move to introduce the resolution on Kashmir,” and also noted that “ Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Deputy Chief of Mission Amit Kumar and the Indian Consul General in San Francisco, Sanjay Panda, met Jayapal to explain India's position on Kashmir. But her views on Kashmir remained unchanged irrespective of the information and facts brought to her.”
The report said that at the recent Diwali celebrations on Capitol Hill, “a large number of influential Indian-Americans reached out to her urging her to drop the idea of bringing resolution in the House,” and had pointed out to her that “Prime Minister Modi received a standing ovation when he spoke on abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A on Kashmir during his address to the Indian community in Houston.”
Earlier, agency reports had said that Jayapal’s office had been bombarded with over 25,000 angry e-mails, calls and letters and protests held outside of her office.
But senior aides to Jayapal denied these reports, with one aide telling India Abroad, “I don’t think we received more than a dozen e-mails and calls.”
“And certainly, no protests!” the aide added.
Jayapal’s resolution, follows close on the heels of another resolution decrying human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, introduced by a fellow progressive, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D.-Mich.)--one of two Muslim American women (the other being Rep. Ilhan Omar, D.-Minn.)--"Condemning the human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and supporting Kashmiri self-determination.”
But Tlaib’s Resolution 724, introduced on Nov. 22, and referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over such matters, has not been able to gain any traction and has not been able to attract any co-sponsors.
Her resolution,accused India of unilaterally changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir “without a direct consultation or the consent of the Kashmiri people,” and urged that the government immediately lift all remaining elements of the communications blockade imposed in the valley.
The resolution also pointed to the continuing “detentions and harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir” as has been reported by independent observers and the international media and also complained about the “right to religious expression” being severely curtailed, which it said included the closures of mosques and religious buildings.
According to the resolution, "India has failed to hold its military accountable and perpetuated a state of impunity for members of the Indian Armed Forces and related security services, in part through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.”