A US Congressional sub-committee on Monday said it will hold a hearing on the human rights situation in South Asia with focus on Kashmir on October 22.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells, who oversees all State Department policy towards South Asia will testify at the hearing, Congressman Brad Sherman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia, said.
“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,” Mr Sherman said in a statement.
The panel will also review the humanitarian situation in Kashmir and whether Kashmiris have adequate supplies of food, medicine and other essentials, he added.
Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Scott Busby, who overseas human rights efforts in South Asia will also testify.
“We have invited other State Department officials and we also expect to hear from private human rights activists on the issues,” Mr Sherman said.
“In August, I had an opportunity to meet Americans from Kashmir Valley in the San Fernando Valley, along with my colleague Congressman Andre 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,” he said.
“I look forward to learning more about human rights in Kashmir,” he said adding it will also focus on the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the Sindh Province and Muslims in Assam.
Meanwhile, US Senator from the Democratic Party who wanted to visit Kashmir to see the situation ‘first-hand’ has been denied permission by the authorities. Chris Van Hollen is the first US Congressman to have been denied the permission. Hollen was part of a congressional delegation that discussed India-U.S. bilateral relations, trade ties and defence purchases with authorities in India.
Tensions are high in Kashmir ever since Narendra Modi-government decided to scrap provisions of Article 370, which gave special status to the state. The Parliament of India has also approved the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
“I wanted to visit Kashmir to see first-hand what was happening, but was not allowed by the Indian government. We had approached the government about a week ago, but were told it was not the right time to go there,” the Indian Express quoted Hollen as saying.
“I had thought it would be useful to go there and see the situation myself. My personal view is that if you have nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear by allowing visitors to the state. I can only conclude that the Indian government doesn’t want us to see what’s happening out there,” he added.
According to The Hindu report, Chris Van Hollen has now added an appeal to end what it calls a “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir in its report ahead of the annual Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020. The report has asked the Government of India to: fully restore telecommunications and Internet services; lift its lockdown and curfew; and release individuals detained pursuant to the Government’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.”
Normal life remained affected in Kashmir for the 61st consecutive day on Friday as main markets were shut and public transport was off the roads, officials said. Few shops in some areas of the city here were open from 7:30 to 11:00 am, but downed their shutters afterwards, the officials said.
However, there were no restrictions anywhere in the valley, but security forces were deployed in strength in vulnerable areas to maintain law and order, they said.
They said auto-rickshaws and few inter-district cabs were seen plying here, but the other modes of public transport were off the roads.
The movement of private cars was lesser on Friday as compared to Thursday when the city had witnessed traffic jams at various places, they added.
Mobile services remained suspended in Kashmir except in Handwara and Kupwara areas in the north, while internet services — across all platforms continued to be snapped in the valley since the night of August 4, officials said.