Pundits decry ‘biased’ Congressional hearing on Kashmir

Kashmiri Overseas Association symposium at the Marriott Convention Center in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 19.

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The premier organization of the Kashmiri Pandits in the U.S., has slammed the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and its chairman Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) for totally ignoring the plight of the Pandits in Kashmir during the ‘Human Rights in South Asia,’ hearing on Oct. 22 and the human rights abuse this indigenous race has suffered for the past three decades.

In a letter to Sherman, the Kashmiri Overseas Association (KOA), and umbrella group of Kashmiri Pandit organizations, complained that “our story that got lost when you focused on the Kashmir issue in the congressional hearing,” as it left out “one of the indigenous races of Jammu and Kashmir against whom human rights violations have been committed for the last 30 years,” and that sans “their testimony, the committee hearing promoted anti-Hindu sentiment, peddle an anti-Indian propaganda machine to appease the Muslim population in the United States and/or the globe.”

“Though you had invited panelists with varying perspectives, the hearing was conducted to favor a one-sided narrative which was clearly illustrated with only three of the six panelists dominating the hearing,” it alleged.  

KOA president Dr. Shakun Malik and its secretary Amrita Kar said in the missive dated Oct. 23, that journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh, “a victim of the brutal forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus of 1990,” and a recent “eyewitness of the ground situation,” although invited to testify “was getting cut off multiple times to express herself.”

They wrote Sherman that “we were hopeful when you asked what happened to the 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits who left the Valley 30 years ago, but to our quick dismay, you never gave her the opportunity to expand her response,” and alleged, “It was clear that you did not intend to hear the reality.”

“The denial, misinformation and silence of the forced exodus of the Kashmiri Hindu community has been rampant in narratives by the press and in discussions and debates all across the US post abrogation of the articles (370 and 35 A),” the letter added.

Stating that “first and foremost, they did not leave the valley, as you incorrectly stated at the hearing,” the KOA wrote Sherman, noting that “they were forced to leave by Islamic terrorists. It started with targeted killings of Hindus, gang rapes of women, followed by gruesome mass murders. Mosques and crowds chanted slogans to Kashmiri Pandits to either convert to Islam or die or leave. Pamphlets with similar messages, were plastered on our doors and alleyways. We were left to bear the horrors of terrorism on our own with many homes, businesses, and temples burned to the ground. We became refugees in our own country, some forced to live in squalid tent camps.”

“Thirty years later,” KOA said, “people who were educated and had means have scattered throughout the world and India. Those who were less fortunate and less educated are still languishing in refugee camps under subhuman conditions. Each of us has our own stories of our lost childhood, lost homes mixed with the feelings of lost friendships, betrayal and a feeling of being disowned, orphaned and uprooted.”

Earlier, on Oct. 19, KOA held an all-day symposium at the Marriott Convention Center in Bethesda, Md., to get the message out that the “actions taken by the Indian government after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A directly impacts our existence,” and declared optimistically, “A new light of hope has energized our community for the first time after our forced exodus three decades ago.”

The symposium focused on “raising awareness of the history of the indigenous Kashmiris whose culture is at the brink of extinction,” and after welcoming remarks by Malik, the first session focused on the impact of the revocation of Articles 35A & 370 and the restructuring of Jammu and Kashmir.

This session was moderated by Sanjay Kaul and featured Sushil Pandit, Dr. Suresh Jain, Dr. Subhash Kak and Tariq Fatah who each provided context to the current affairs of the valley.  

Next was a youth session led by the KOA Youth director Nisha Quasba and the panelists Dr. Seema Mattoo, Parth Parihar and Amrita Kar, spoke of how each of them in their own capacities, have been combating the false narratives of Kashmiri Pandits that that the youth have had to deal with at social gatherings, colleges and the workplace.

The final panel, comprising Kaul, Lalit Koul, Kak, Dr. Rajat Mitra, Pandit, and andMalik moderated by Lalit Wanchoo, focused on the aspirations and a way forward for the Kashmiri Hindu community, many of whom who still crave to return to their homeland.

Several resolutions were also passed on behalf of the Kashmiri Pandit community and the Hindu community based in the U.S. that lauded the repeal of Articles 370 and 35 A and the reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

While acknowledging that the revocation of these articles did not directly impact the Kashmiri Pandits, KOA said, “We welcome this move and appreciate the gender equality aspect of it.”

The resolutions also warned that “the Jihadi challenge in Jammu and Kashmir is still far away from being defeated but we support the efforts to bring peace in the region,” and urged the government of India that the “safety and security of those Hindu families who continued to live and work in Kashmir valley and the families still living in sub-human conditions of temporary camps in Jammu be granted utmost importance.”

New Delhi was also exhorted to “formally recognize the genocide inflicted upon Hindus of Kashmir that destroyed the Hindu habitat in Kashmir and cleansed Kashmir valley of the presence of Hindus living there from the dawn of history,” and called on the government of India “to evolve policies for reversal of genocide of Hindus of Kashmir, which should incorporate Nuremberg type trials to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice.”

The resolutions also besides calling for “the rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits who have been victims of genocide 1990 or earlier in the newly established Jammu and Kashmir,” said in the interim that these people be granted “Internally Displaced Person (IDP) status until genocide reversal is fully achieved.”

After the symposium, the several hundred participants held a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was also attended by many children, to pray that after the Pandits 30-year exile, returning home becomes a reality and peace prevails in the Valley.

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