U.S. diplomat: Kashmir human rights a concern for Washington
The Trump administration remains concerned about the ongoing crackdown in India-administered Kashmir, the restive Himalayan region stripped of its special constitutional status in August, but supports India's development "objectives" there, a U.S. diplomat said in a statement on Tuesday ahead of a congressional hearing in Washington.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells said the U.S. State Department has encouraged India to restore phone and Internet access and release detainees in the region.
After India's Parliament voted to remove a constitutional provision that gave Kashmiris semi-autonomy and a right to their own constitution, flag and land, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government imposed a security lockdown and communications blackout. Thousands of people were detained.
Some phone connectivity has been restored, but Internet services remain down.
Barricades and books in restive Kashmir neighbourhood
Anchar, a densely-populated, working-class area of Srinagar, is a pocket of resistance to India's revocation in early August of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. By Danish Siddiqui
Few people step outside Anchar, a neighbourhood ringed by steel barricades and razor wire in Indian Kashmir, where police have imposed a weeks-long region-wide clampdown to stifle protests
As night falls, groups of youths, many wearing masks and armed with stones and tree branches, are huddled around bonfires, sipping tea provided by neighbours. "I am spending the night outdoors so I can protect my family," said Fazil, a 16-year-old student. "There is no fear in me," he added, holding a thick tree branch as he watched the street from a checkpoint
Worshippers gathered in the mosque in Anchar for Friday prayers listen intently to Hayat Ahmed Bhat, a Kashmiri activist, prior to a street demonstration
Seven weeks since the clampdown and a degree of normalcy has returned. Telephone landlines are working again, though mobile and Internet networks remain suspended. Shops open briefly to allow people to restock supplies and traffic is back on Srinagar's streets. In Anchar, however, the situation remains tense
The neighbourhood is a no-go zone for security forces. Entrances to the area are guarded by young people manning barricades made of tree trunks, electricity poles and barbed wire to keep the police out. Laneways have been dug up to block security vehicles
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said Kashmir's special status, which allowed only residents to buy property and hold government jobs, restricted its development and encouraged a separatist revolt that has killed 40,000 people since 1989. Indian authorities have arrested nearly 4,000 people since the decision
With government services like schools still shut in Anchar, four college students have set up a makeshift school, giving lessons to 200 children for a few hours each day. "The education of students in this locality is suffering because of the turmoil. We won't let our future generations suffer," said Adil, a college student turned teacher
"Bullets and pellets every day": Anchar's female residents has also taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the revocation of Kashmir's special status and the clampdown by Prime Minister Modi and his ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party
Rubina's 15-year-old son was injured by pellets fired by security forces while he was returning home from Friday prayers. The boy's head is heavily bandaged and he hasn't spoken since the incident, but the family would rather treat him at home than take him to a city hospital, fearing he could be detained by police
"If he has to go out for a change of bandage to the nearby government hospital, he will be accompanied by six or seven women, so they don't snatch him away," Rubina said
More than seven weeks after the crackdown began, there is little sign of an end to the stand-off in this neighbourhood, home to some 15,000 people
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation is meeting Tuesday on human rights in South Asia. The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, has said the focus will be on Kashmir, where life has been disrupted for nearly 8 million people.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about human rights in Kashmir in recent months.
Earlier this month, Democratic Sen. Chris van Hollen of Maryland told reporters in New Delhi that he and other members of a U.S. delegation to India were blocked by the Indian government from visiting Kashmir.
In the statement, Wells also said that direct dialogue between India and Pakistan held the most potential for reducing regional tensions. The archrival countries each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the region in its entirety, Wells called out Pakistan for its "continued support of extremist groups that engage in cross-border terrorism."
In July, President Donald Trump said that he offered to mediate India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir. India's foreign minister has repeatedly denied the claim.
"The tenor of the Kashmir discussion in the U.S. is something that India will be looking at closely," said Brahma Chellaney, a professor at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.
The House hearing on Tuesday will also take up a citizen registry effort in northeast India that has placed the legal status of about 2 million people in limbo, as well as human rights issues in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to Sherman's office. (AP)