Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s India visit later this month, four top US senators have written to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing concern about the internet curbs in Kashmir more than six months after Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was scrapped under Article 370, as well the preventive detentions of political leaders. In their letter, the senators also express concern over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA that triggered protests across the country.
Last week, the draconian Public Safety Act was invoked against two former Chief Ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbboba Mufti, to extend their custody. The stringent law allows detention without trial for up to three months and multiple extensions.
The letter by the senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, says that the Indian government “continues to block most internet in the region… India has now imposed the longest ever internet shutdown by a democracy, disrupting access to medical care, business and education for 7 million people.”
“Hundreds of Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’ including key political figures,” the letter to Mike Pompeo states. The senators said, “These actions have severe consequences.”
Donald Trump and Melania Trump will arrive for a two-day India visit on February 24. They will begin their visit with a grand event in Ahmedabad in PM modi’s home state Gujarat. Among the four senators who wrote the letter is Lindsey Graham who is very close to Trump.
“The Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This includes the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act,” the senators say.
The letter goes on to demand an assessment by the US government within 30 days of “the number of individuals detained by the Indian government for political purposes due to India’s revocation of Article 370.”
The senators also call for an assessment of the “restrictions on communications” in Jammu and Kashmir and the “level of access” given to independent observers, diplomats, foreign journalists.
The US senators also want an assessment of the “number of individuals at risk of statelessness, denial of nationality pursuant to an NRC (National Register of Citizens).”
The letter from the Amercian senators comes at a time a second batch of foreign envoys – many of them from the European Union – are in Jammu and Kashmir as part of the government’s efforts to display the measures taken to restore normalcy in the newly created union territory.
The US has been closely watching the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the anti-CAA protests in the country. The Trump administration has expressed its concerns over both the issues in the past.
US Senators, who described themselves as a “longtime friends of India”, sought an assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir and religious freedom in the country, saying hundreds of Kashmiris remain in “preventive detention.”
The US lawmakers, describing themselves as “long-time friends of India”, wrote in the letter that “more than six months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the government continues to block most internet in the region.”
Signatories to the letter are Chris Van Hollen, Todd Young, Richard J Durbin and Lindsey O Graham. “In addition, the Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This includes the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act which is being challenged in India”s Supreme Court,” the Senators wrote.
In the letter, the Senators requested Pompeo for a State Department assessment of a number of issues in India including the number of individuals detained by the government for political purposes and their treatment; current restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir; current accessibility of Jammu and Kashmir; and restrictions on religious freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir. The actions taken by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir, they said, have severe consequences.
That is why, in the Fiscal Year 2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes appropriations report, the Congress urged India to fully restore telecommunications and internet services, lift its lockdown and curfew and release the individuals detained pursuant to the Indian government’s revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
Trump will pay a state visit to India on February 24 and 25 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who on Wednesday said the US President”s visit will be a “very special one” and it will go a long way in further cementing India-USA friendship. India maintains that the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities. It is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect fundamental rights, a senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs has said.
According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship. The Indian government has been emphasising that the new law will not deny any citizenship rights, but has been brought to protect the oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries and give them citizenship.
Defending the CAA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month said that the law is not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship. “We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process. There’s no problem in that,” he said.