Ahead of Trump’s visit, US lawmakers seek assessment of religious freedom situation in Kashmir

Trump will pay a state visit to India on February 24 and 25 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As the US President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit India on February 24, four influential US Senators have called for an assessment of the situation of human rights and religious freedom in the country, saying that hundreds of Kashmiris remain in preventive detention.

In a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated February 12, the senators said that India has imposed the ‘longest-ever internet shutdown by a democracy’, disrupted access to medical care, business and education for seven million people.

“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”, said the lawmakers, who describe themselves as ‘longtime friends of India’.

“Hundreds of Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’, including key political figures,” the letter read.
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.

Notably, India has maintained and categorically told the international community that its move to scrap Article 370 was an internal matter. According to officials, the internet is being restored in the Valley in a phased manner after reviewing the security situation. It has also maintained that the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities.

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.DNA

(WithPTI inputs)