House hearing on ‘Human Rights in South Asia’ to Focus on humanitarian crisis in Kashmir

Anti-Modi protestors at a rally near UN headquarters in New York last month opposing the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia—which has jurisdiction over affairs pertaining to the subcontinent -- and the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, has announced a hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia,” on Oct. 22 that will zero in on the current situation in Kashmir that several U.S. lawmakers, human rights activists, and leading U.S. and global media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have described as a burgeoning “humanitarian crisis.”

The lawmaker said the lead witness who will testify at the hearing would be “Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, who oversees all State Department policy towards South Asia,” and would also include “Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Scott Busby, who overseas human rights efforts is South Asia.”

Sherman also said in a statement released on Sept. 30 that “we have invited other State Department officials and we also expect to hear from private human rights activists on the issues,” and noted that “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,” he added.

Sherman recalled, “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 (D-IN). 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 additional meetings with Kashmiri Americans.”

Thus, he said, “I look forward to learning more about human rights in Kashmir.”

Additionally, Sherman said that “the hearing will also focus on the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the Sindh Province and Muslims in Assam.”

A few days after his meeting with Carson and Kashmiri Americans in his constituency, Sherman said that he would soon convene a hearing of his subcommittee on the situation in Kashmir, although he did not announce a specific date. Carson, an African American, is one of three Muslim American lawmakers in the U.S. Congress, and Congressional sources told India Abroad at the time, that the Kashmiri Americans and the Pakistani and Muslim Americans working through the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had also urged Carson to urge his colleague Sherman to schedule a hearing on Kashmir.

Interestingly, Sherman, a time-tested pro-India advocate and a founding member of the India Caucus, in mid-September, began circulating a letter to his Congressional colleagues, urging them to attend the mega ‘Howdy, Modi!’ mega rally in Houston on Sept. 22.

But much to the surprise of his colleagues and the Indian American community, Sherman failed to show up at the rally, and according to several sources close to him, he had once again succumbed to constituent pressure and human rights organizations and also the Progressive Caucus in the U.S., co-chaired by Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D.-Calif.), the vice-chair of this Caucus, who also did not attend the rally and have been strong critics of the Indian government’s action in Kashmir and Hindutva respectively.

Consequently, since the senior-most Indian American in the Congress, Rep. Ami Bera (D.-Calif.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D.-Hawaii), also did not show up, apparently due to a previously scheduled fund-raiser.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the only member of the four-member Indian American ‘Samosa Caucus’ to show up for the ‘Howdy,Modi!’ rally felt “really abandoned,” and Sherman’s absence further compounded Krishnamoorthi’s sense of abandonment, particularly as he was then mercilessly trolled and attacked for his attendance.

Congressional sources close to Sherman reiterated to India Abroad as they had made clear when he had initially announced that he would convene a hearing that the meeting on Oct. 22, would specifically be to explore the situation in Kashmir with regard to the human rights situation in the Valley in the aftermath of the Indian government’s clampdown and the availability of food, medical care and the travel and communication restrictions,  and not to have any discussion on the Indian government’s revocation of Article 370 and Article 35 A, which the lawmaker considered an internal affair of India.

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