WASHINGTON – In a strong defense of India's move to abrogate special status for Jammu and Kashmir, a representative of the Kashmiri Pandit community told a Congressional hearing that those talking of human rights violations in Kashmir today cannot ignore the rights of the Kashmiri Hindus who were forced to flee by Islamic terrorists and radicals in 1990.
Testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Nov. 14, writer and political commentator Sunanda Vashisht said while the world is expressing horror at the brutality of the Islamic State outfit's actions in Syria and elsewhere, the Kashmiri Hindu community had witnessed it 30 years ago.
"We have seen ISIS-level of horror and brutality in Kashmir 30 years before the West was even introduced to the brutality of radical Islamic terror," Vashisht said.
"I am glad the hearings are happening, because when my family lost our homes, our livelihood and our way of life, the world remained silent.
"Where were the advocates of human rights when my rights were taken away?" she asked.
"Where were they on the night of January 9, 1990, when mosques in Kashmir were blaring that they wanted Kashmir with Hindu women but without Hindu men. Where were the advocates of humanity when my feeble old grandfather stood with two kitchen knives and a rusted axe ready to kill my mother and I in order to save us from the much worse fate if we landed in the hands of Islamic terrorists that night?
"We were given three choices — flee, convert, or die. Around 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus fled after that night of horror, they survived, those who didn't were killed," she said.
She said she was speaking as a member of the minority Hindu community from Kashmir, which has been a "victim of the worst ethnic cleansing witnessed in independent India.”
She recounted two incidents of brutal killing of Kashmiri Hindus by Islamic terrorists in 1990, because of their faith.
"What human rights are we talking about when all minorities have been either driven out or silenced? An Islamist state of Kashmir where other religions are not welcome and tolerance of any other view is absent, is no citadel of human rights.
"This is the society being created in Kashmir by those who are talking of human rights... Terrorism is the ultimate opponent of human rights, and human rights cannot, and should not take precedence over human life," she stressed.
She recounted the recent killing of shopkeepers, truck drivers and apple growers in Kashmir by terrorists as they wanted to earn their livelihood.
"Because the simple act of earning a livelihood in Kashmir would show that Kashmir is moving towards normalcy," which the terrorists do not want to allow.
"Who are these people who talk of human rights but fear free movement, fear free thought and earning of livelihoods?" she asked.
She said the Aug. 5 abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir is a "restoration of human rights.”
She said the Indian Constitution that is modelled on the U.S. Constitution is the most liberal document in the world. The Indian Constitution was not applicable in J&K in totality as long as Article 370 was in force, she said.
With abrogation of Article 370 now the people of J&K and Ladakh "have been liberated.”
"Now child marriage is outlawed, sex trafficking is outlawed, Kashmiri women and children are given the same rights as the rest of Indians. LGBTQ people are now eligible to rights. I am delighted that Kashmiris have the same rights as the rest," she added.
She said while the clampdown has been revoked, the restoration of internet in Kashmir is not very far away. "I hope my human rights too are restored some day."
The Hindu American Foundation, meanwhile, has urged the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to recognize "the unique security challenges faced by America's ally India in Jammu and Kashmir and forcefully address Pakistan's role as a state sponsor of terror.”
The HAF, a non-profit advocacy organization for the Indian American Hindu community, in a written statement to the Lantos Commission Nov. 14, also urged the U.S. government to "fully support India's internal sovereign decisions.”
Joining the Indo-American Kashmir Forum and Kashmir Hindu Foundation it submitted a Written Statement for the Record to the Commission as it held its hearing, "Jammu and Kashmir in Context," Nov. 14.
It also said that the U.S. State Department should "continue to engage with the Indian government on a road map towards restoring normalcy and lifting of restrictions as soon as is reasonably possible.”
"The U.S. should hold Pakistan accountable for its support of cross-border terrorism and its persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, including Kashmiris, so that peace is restored in Kashmir once and for all.
"Finally, the U.S. government should support the human rights of the ethnically cleansed Kashmiri Hindu population and other Kashmiris who have been victimized by Pakistani sponsored terror groups," it added.
The HAF expressed disappointment with the Commission for holding the hearing with a very short public notice of only 48 hours.
It said a conventional advance notice of two weeks or more would have elicited a far wider response from potential expert witnesses, non-government organizations working in this field, as well as the wider public, thus enriching the Commission's fact-finding spirit.
"Furthermore, it is disappointing to see this hearing being held on the same day that Diwali, the most important festival for over 3 million Indian Americans, is being celebrated on Capitol Hill.
"Such insensitivity is not lost on the Indian American community," it added.
On the Aug. 5 revocation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir, it said: "For decades, these temporary and discriminatory provisions (Article 370 and Article 35A) had a number of unintended consequences. Article 370 restricted the Indian Parliament's legislative power over Jammu and Kashmir to defense, foreign affairs, and communications, forcing residents of Jammu and Kashmir to live under a separate set of laws that prevented them from enjoying the same rights as other Indian citizens.
"Similarly, Article 35A defined who were permanent residents of the state and determined who could buy property in the state and enjoy other special rights and privileges.
"The repeal of these articles ensures that all democratic laws passed in the Indian Parliament are applied to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, ensuring equal protection under the law and all the rights afforded to Indian citizens, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, or social background, and who now have access to better educational and economic opportunities."
On the Kashmir situation, it said: "The situation in Jammu and Kashmir today is a direct product of cross-border terrorism from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan's actions in Kashmir have not just been limited to overt military conflict, but have also included the use of proxies. Starting in 1989, Pakistan's military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency started a full-blown proxy war. This is the same military-intelligence complex that provided safe harbor to Osama Bin Laden and Islamist terrorists that continue to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan today.
"In 1989-1990, over 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus, known as Pandits, were ethnically cleansed from the Kashmir Valley, their ancestral home. The violent campaign targeting Kashmir's indigenous minorities was organized, systematic, and included massacres, rape, threats, and intimidation. Public announcements were placed in newspapers, intimidating sermons were made in mosques and broadcast on loudspeakers, and posters hung on houses ordering all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the Valley, threatening violence if they did not and calling on Muslims to take up jihad against non-Muslims. This episode resulted in the cleansing of approximately 95% of the indigenous Hindu population.
"While religious minorities in Kashmir were specifically targeted, Kashmiri Muslims have by far bore the brunt of terrorist related violence, which has taken the lives of 15,000 civilians, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Pakistan sponsored terror groups active in Kashmir, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the US State Department and enjoy links with the broader terror network in South Asia, including the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and IS."