Bipartisan legislation urges India to preserve religious freedom, end communications blockade and mass detentions
- By Aziz Haniffa Dec 9, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. — One day after introducing a Congressional resolution urging India to expeditiously lift the communications blockade in Jammu and Kashmir and preserve the religious freedom of all residents in the valley, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) has applauded the temporary release of a prominent Kashmiri Muslim business leader — an uncle of one of her constituents. On Dec. 7, Jayapal, the first Indian American woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, hailed the temporary release of Dr. Mubeen Shah, the uncle of her constituent Nafisa Muzaffar, who she said had “been detained without due process and denied medical care.”
A day earlier, Jayapal introduced a bipartisan House Resolution with Rep. Steve Watkins (R.-Kansas) to urge India “to preserve religious freedom for all and end communications blockade and mass detentions in Jammu & Kashmir.”
According to Jayapal, Dr. Shah, was “a prominent Kashmiri business leader who was arbitrarily detained as part of India’s crackdown on political and business leaders in Jammu and Kashmir.”
While appreciating his release, Jayapal also called on the Indian government “to grant Dr. Shah a permanent release, end all arbitrary detentions, and address human rights issues in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Muzaffar had first written to Jayapal in the wake of the arrest of her uncle and then met with her to ask for help with her uncle’s case, which Jayapal had then raised directly with the Deputy Indian Ambassador to the United States.
Jayapal said, “It’s a big step forward for justice that Dr. Shah has been granted a temporary release after four months of being detained without any due process — a clear violation of his human rights.”
She said, “After hearing from his niece, Nafisa Muzaffar, I repeatedly pressed senior officials from the Indian government and the U.S. State Department in private meetings and public hearings about Dr. Shah’s case,” and noted that “Dr. Shah’s detention without charges by the Indian government is one of thousands of deeply unjust detentions without explanation or due process.
“I call on the Indian government to grant Dr. Shah a permanent release so he can travel outside the country and obtain the medical care he so desperately needs — and end its arbitrary detentions and abuse of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir,” she added.
According to a news release put out by her office, after revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and autonomy, the Indian government had arrested and held at least 4,000 people under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone in Jammu and Kashmir for up to two years without charge or trial.
It said, “Dr. Shah’s temporary release — the first reported release of a person detained under the PSA — comes the day after Jayapal introduced a bipartisan House Resolution 745 to urge the Indian government to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents.”
Jayapal said, “As the world’s largest democracy, India shares a unique and important relationship with the United States. I’m proud to have lived my own life in the world’s two greatest democracies — as a citizen of India for 35 years, and now as a proud American citizen and member of Congress.
“I have fought to strengthen this special U.S.-India relationship, which is why I am deeply concerned by the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir,” she said, and argued, “Detaining people without charge, severely limiting communications, and blocking neutral third parties from visiting the region is harmful to our close, critical bilateral relationship. India must quickly lift restrictions on cell phones and internet access, release arbitrarily detained people, protect free speech and peaceful protest, and condemn all religiously motivated violence at the highest levels across India.”
Jayapal said, “I hope to work with the Indian government and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen the U.S.-India partnership, while protecting the human rights of the Kashmiri people.”
While her resolution “recognizes the dire security challenges faced by the government and India in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing threat of state-supported cross-border terrorism,” it urges New Delhi “to refrain from the use of threats and excessive force against detained people and peaceful protesters.”
It calls on India to “swiftly release arbitrarily detained people” and “refrain from conditioning” the release of detained people on their willingness to sign bonds prohibiting any political activities and speeches.
The resolution also claims that there “is photographic evidence” indicating that detained people “have been required to sign surety bonds forbidding them from making statements or participating in political activities as a condition of their release.”
It also urges India “to allow international human rights observers and journalists to access Jammu and Kashmir and operate freely throughout India, without threats,” and noted that India’s Constitution “mandates a secular state that upholds the rights of all citizens to the freedoms of religion, expression, and speech and to equal treatment before the law.” The resolution also condemns “all religiously motivated violence, including against religious minorities.”
Jayapal’s resolution, follows close on the heels of another resolution decrying human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, introduced on Nov. 22 by a fellow progressive, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D.-Mich.) — one of two Muslim American women (the other being Rep. Ilhan Omar, D.-Minn.) — “Condemning the human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and supporting Kashmiri self-determination.”
Tlaib’s Resolution 724 called on Congress “to affirm that any changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir must be made with the direct consultation of the Kashmiri people, who must play a central role in the determination of their future.”
On Oct. 22, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia on the ‘State of Human Rights on South Asia,’ Jayapal, although not a member of the committee, was afforded the courtesy of questioning State Department officials appearing before the committee and called on them to address human rights issues in Jammu and Kashmir, including the mass detentions without due process and communications blockade. During the hearing, Jayapal pressed Assistant Secretary of State Alice G. Wells for answers about the case of Dr. Shah and pressed the State Department to act with a sense of urgency.
Immediately after that hearing, the right wing of the Hindutva fringe in the U.S., launched a scurrilous attack on Jayapal for her tough questioning of the senior Trump administration officials.
Led by Satya Dosapati, who unabashedly aligns himself with VHP and RSS and was a confidante and protégé of the late Narain Kataria — considered the godfather of the VHP and RSS movement in the U.S.— Jayapal and her fellow progressives, were called “cowards,” and “insecure and opportunistic trash,” and that the Hindu American community should “not fund and support just because someone has brown skin.”
In an e-mail to Dr. Barat Barai, a Chicago-based physician — who is a longtime friend and confidante of Prime Minister Modi and a political activist and fund-raiser for several lawmakers over the years, — and copied to several U.S. lawmakers and their staff and members of the Hindu American Foundation, and other Hindu American activists, Dosapati wrote, “The problem is Hindu lawmakers like Jayapal are career politicians who will sell their own community for their career advancement. They are cowards who would not want to face the truth and speak the truths, but for convenient or selective truths,” he added, and asked, “Where does Congresswoman Jayapal gets her information from.”
He complained, “Why are we being stupid in supporting these people? For heaven sake, let us not fund and support (these Hindu lawmakers) just because someone has brown skin, most of them are insecure and opportunistic trash. Go to someone for their character and strength for speaking truth, not selective and convenient truths. Maybe (Congresswoman) Tulsi is a great example, at least everything we have seen about her.”