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Indian-Americans chip in to balance Kashmir hearing

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission organised a US House of Representative hearing on Kashmir issue over “continued restrictions and detentions in J&K” which was attended by 25 Indian-Americans. India, thorough its embassy in Washington, worked thr...

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Nov 16, 2019, 01.14 PM IST
New Delhi: The presence of 25 Indian-Americans at the US House of Representative hearing on Kashmir on Thursday helped improve the atmospherics from that during the October 22 session which was chaired by Congressman Brad Sherman.

India, thorough its embassy in Washington, worked through various channels to blunt Pakistan’s effort to create an overbearing narrative on Kashmir at the hearing, which was organised by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Surprisingly, of the 84 members of the commission, only four, apart from the co-chairs, were present during the hearing. These four members were from the Left-liberal faction of the Democratic party. Only one nonmember attended the briefing.

Sheila Jackson Lee (Democrat) was among the four who attended. She is the founder and chair of the Pakistan Caucus in the US Congress.

McGovern, the co-chair Congressman, allowed each witness adequate and equal time to speak and respond, ET has learnt.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, in his testimony noted that Pakistan funds the terror groups which are inciting violence in J& K. Co-chair Chris Smith (Republican) supported the position taken by Ambassador Alice Wells at the October 22 hearing that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.

Writer Sunanda Vashisht, who is a Kashmiri Pandit, was accepted as a witness at the hearing. Her personal account made an impact on the hearing as she focussed on cross-border Islamic terrorism. Vashisht also called out the bluff of Arjun Sethi (human rights lawyer) by stating that he had forgotten to mention the violence perpetrated against the Sikhs by Pakistan-based terror groups in Kashmir.

The four US lawmakers expressed concern once again with “continued restrictions and detentions in J&K”.

“I am deeply concerned by the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir, to detain people without charge, severely limit communications and block third parties from visiting,” said Democrat lawmaker Pramila Jayapal.

The lack of interest by Congressmen in the hearing was apparent, as out of 84 members of the Commission, only four, apart from the Co-chairs, attended the hearing.

Despite the short notice of only 2 days and a panel of witnesses largely anti-India critics, the Embassy, through concerted efforts coordinated between Consulates, Indian-American community and civil society organizations ensured that the hearing was significantly balanced, ET has learnt.

Vashisht identifies as a victim of ethnic cleansing was accepted as a witness at the hearing following intense outreach from Indian-American community in the constituencies of the co-Chairs of the Commission - Congressman Jim McGovern and Congressman Chris Smith.

Vashisht’s personal story as a Kashmiri-Hindu made a powerful impact on the hearing and she also ensured that the discussions retained a focus on the issue of cross-border radical Islamic terrorism which affects Jammu & Kashmir. She also made her voice heard in the proceedings and intervened every time a false fact was propagated by other witnesses.

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