WASHINGTON,D.C. -- Perhaps the most passionate and controversial testimony at the ‘Human Rights in South Asia,’ Congressional hearing on Oct. 22, was delivered by Prof. Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit, who argued that the Kashmiri imbroglio is a political problem that has been communalized and compounded by human rights violations.
Kaul, an Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, who was among the several private witnesses who testified in the afternoon session of the hearing, right off the bat asserted that “the parallels with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are actually very apt because the RSS in India, is a nationwide paramilitary that is the ideological parent of the current ruling party.”
“And, the RSS has avowedly an idea of turning India into a Hindu nation,” she said. “It also has this idea of an undivided India where everything else in the region will become part of a Hindu India.”
Kaul also told the lawmakers, who belonged to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and also a few other members who had been afforded the courtesy to participate even though they were not members of the Committee, “Please also remember that the New York Times in 1922 had profiled Hitler saying that Mr. Hitler’s antisemitism is neither as violent or as genuine as it sounds.”
“So, things take time to unfold and the proto-fascist trajectory that sadly the secular democracy of India is on, is very worrying for us all.”
At the outset, in establishing her credentials and making clear where she was coming from, Kaul said, “I want to begin by saying that I am mindful of the ironies of speaking here in non-communal terms, being someone who’s a Kashmiri Pandit herself, but also being someone who is from Kashmir, grew up in India, lives in England, and is speaking in the U.S. today.”
“So, there are multiple colonial transitions there that are important,” she added to chuckles.
But, in her testimony, Kaul made clear that “I do not represent here Indian interests, or Pakistani interests, and in fact that is precisely the problem—that the people who speak about Kashmiri self-interests and the rights of the Kashmiris themselves, are the ones who are most vulnerable from any and every side.”
She argued, “The communal politics, serves no one—it does not serve the Indians and if Kashmir was a communal issue, then the Muslims in India would feel the same as Kashmiri Muslims, (but) they do not.”
“So, it’s not a communal issue, albeit an issue that has been communalized,” she said.
Kaul, while acknowledging that Kashmir has “a long and complex history,” said that complexity “should not blind us to obviate and obfuscate from us the very simple fact that there is a political problem here, which is compounded by human rights violations.”
She said this was “because this has not just implications for Kashmiris who are currently under siege and collective punishment, deprived of their very basic rights, but it also has regional and potential global implications because people travel across borders and ideas, when they are suffocated, and dissent when it is suffocated, becomes the hardest to handle.”
Kaul argued that “the question here is really not about Article 370. The fundamental consent here is about the consent of the people. If something is being carried out for people’s welfare, for their development, then why does it need tens of thousands of troops being brought in.”
Also, she noted, “Why does it have to happen overnight without absolutely any consultation of the people, with placing even the pro-India politicians in prison, and then depriving the population of the right to say anything if it is for their good—then why won’t anyone of them be allowed to say something about it?”
“This is an egregious human rights violation,” Kaul declared, “and it goes against consent, it goes against fundament principle of dissent, as we relate to democracy and as people who have been claimed in the name of a democracy as rights-bearing individuals—this is something that they should fundamentally be allowed to do so.”
Kaul reiterated that “this is arbitrary use of power with no accountability,” as to what the Indian government was doing in Kashmir.
She said, “India claims Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part but continues to show a profound contempt for people of the same Kashmir and deny them basic human rights. Indian response to Kashmiri protests – peaceful or violent – has been more state violence.”
Kaul told the Committee that “even in recent years when the armed opposition to Indian occupation has been at its lowest, there have been glaring instances of rights abuses and contemptuous treatment of Kashmiris who seek justice for the abused.”
Longtime progressive activist AnganaChatterji, co-chair of the Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, in her testimony, said, “The excesses of the Indian state are propped up by laws that grant it impunity and the Pakistan association has been used to ‘pathologize dissent’ and justify state excesses.”
She said, “During the armed militancy in the 1990s, local and cross-border militancy received support from Pakistan, including from the misogynist Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which reportedly ended in 2002, following pressure from the United States. However, foreign machinations are not evidenced in the massive call to local dissent by Kashmiri civil society since 2004-06, and through the summer of 2009, 2010, 2016, 2018, and following August 5, 2019, despite the lockdown, for example.”
Chatterji said, “By the Indian state’s own admission, incidents of armed militancy that have taken place and may reportedly be linked to foreign groups or institutions, have abated... Yet, Kashmiri dissent remains pathologized by institutions of state and majoritarian segments of Indian society, and are responded to with sanctions, and the normalization of violence, reprisal and brutality…”
“Human rights violations and crimes by state institutions and forces target civilians in Kashmir as a method in containment,” she said.
Chatterji in echoing Kaul said that the lack of democratic consent delegitimized the August 5 decisions, and she demanded, “Subjected to a near-constant state of militarized suppression for decades, as Kashmiris have been, and in active and continual dissent, as Kashmiris have been, how can the Indian State take for granted the collective consent of the Kashmiri people?”
She warned that “as channels of civil dissent are cut off,” Kashmiri anxieties could result in armed action. “Kashmiris state that following August 5, 2019, they are afraid of their forcible incorporation into the Union of India by Hindu nationalists. Many are apprehensive that inhumane conditions, extreme brutality and the negation of human rights by institutions of state could foster an armed uprising within Kashmir.”
Meanwhile, New York attorney Ravi Batra, who was invited to appear as a witness just a few hours before the hearing kicked off, in offering a mea culpa said,"I owe India an apology, as when she suffered the Mumbai Terror attack on November 26, 2008, when Jews and Americans were singled out for death by Pakistan based terrorists. I joined in arguing for 'restraint'. I was wrong. Terror needs to be eradicated, so our rights and freedoms mean something.”
With regard to abrogating Article 370 that gave Kashmir special status, Batra said, "He (Modi) said he did this to bring the promise of equal rights and freedoms to all Indians,” and described the Indian Prime Minister’s “actions on August 5, 2019 were judicious, as they were careful. No war broke out. Terrorists were immobilized, as communications and internet were cut off.”
"India, it seems, learned from her Mumbai terror attack,” he said, and added,“Indeed, landing at JFK airport, when standing in line for immigration inspection, there is no phone service or internet connection. Safety matters.”