Kashmir’s human rights crisis after the abrogation of Section 370 and Article 35A is no secret across the globe. When it comes to discussing the human rights violations in South Asia, Kashmir issue is bound to be brought up to the fore. The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee organised a hearing on human rights in South Asia on Tuesday where scholars and journalists from the country were present to depose their statement on the issues concerning human rights in India where the focus of their talk mainly remained Kashmir.

Indian women among the speakers were Nitasha Kaul, Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, Aarti Tikoo Singh, senior assistant editor at The Times of India, and Angana Chatterji, co-chair of the Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. They not only expressed their concerns over the human rights violations in Kashmir but also over the absolute wipe-out of the possibility of dissent in the valley.

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Human rights and dissent in a siege: Nitasha Kaul

Nitasha Kaul started her statement by acknowledging the fact that she is a Kashmiri Pandit who is now a native of England and is speaking in America. However, she is a consistent visitor of Kashmir and so is well aware of the situation in the valley. “Kashmir is a long drawn international conflict that has taken a huge toll on developing countries of India and Pakistan but the biggest victims have been the people of contested territory of Jammu and Kashmir whose right to self-determination as well as basic human rights have been denied for an unacceptably long time,” said Kaul.

She stressed on the siege on dissent in the valley and said, “The Indian state has deprived Kashmiris of any way of expressing themselves in a peaceful manner. Even elderly women who marked a silent protest in Srinagar, capital of Indian-Administered Kashmir, were not spared and detained.” Kaul named activist Parveen Ahangar who held a vigil protest with many elderly women who have been survived by their enforced disappeared children.

Kaul concluded her statement by saying, “To be clear, arbitrary arrests, shrinking of space for the peaceful expression of views, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and other democratic rights have long been a feature of life in Kashmir. What is new is the acute and extreme nature of the restrictions, the contempt for all democratic norms, and putting an end to all possibility for dialogue with Kashmiris who seek justice, dignity, freedom, and self-determination.”

The bias of international media against India: Arti Tikoo Singh

Journalist Tikoo called the panel “prejudiced, biased, a setup against India and in favour of Pakistan.”

“In confronting the Pakistan sponsored militancy, the Indian army and state police have also committed grave human rights abuses. However, what the foot-soldiers of the Pakistani military and ISI have done to ordinary Kashmiri Muslims in the last 30 years, pales in comparison to the human rights violations committed by the Indian state.”

Women Scholar Kashmir Crisis US Panel
Arti Tikoo Singh

“But ironically, the perpetrator of violence in Kashmir has been projected as the victim of human rights abuse; violence and threats of violence have been presented as dissent. In none of the great democracies like the United States or those in Europe, have terror acts especially sponsored by a rival state, been legitimised by calling it dissent.”

She also cracked down on the international media for presenting a “distorted reality of Kashmir.” “While they are rightly highlighting the instances of violations committed by the Indian security, the story is often presented without context and historical understanding and it also carries a lot of certitude and self-righteousness of a narrative that helps the perpetrators and not the human rights abuse in Kashmir,” she added.

“To be clear, arbitrary arrests, shrinking of space for the peaceful expression of views, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and other democratic rights have long been a feature of life in Kashmir. What is new is the acute and extreme nature of the restrictions, the contempt for all democratic norms, and putting an end to all possibility for dialogue with Kashmiris who seek justice, dignity, freedom, and self-determination” Nitasha Kaul

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Kashmiri dissent pathologized by Indian state: Dr Angana Chatterji

She gives a timeline of issue of prevalent militancy in the valley since the 1990s to now and how that has been funded and empowered by local and cross-border militancy received support from Pakistan, including from the misogynist Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Women Scholar Kashmir Crisis US Panel
Angana Chatterji

“It reportedly ended in 2002, following pressure from the United States. However, foreign machinations are not evidenced in the massive call to local dissent by Kashmiri civil society since 2004-06, and through the summer of 2009, 2010, 2016, 2018, and following August 5, 2019, despite the lockdown, for example. By the Indian state’s own admission, incidents of armed militancy that have taken place and may reportedly be linked to foreign groups or institutions, have abated,” Chatterji says.

“Human rights violations and crimes by state institutions and forces target civilians in Kashmir as a method in containment,” she adds to her argument.

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