United States has once again expressed its concern for the situation in Kashmir as the state continues to be under a strict lockdown. On Tuesday Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells told Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee that while US supports India’s development agenda behind scrapping Article 370 it was concerned over the current situation in the Valley.
Wells has joined the likes of Senator Mark Warner, House Representative Pramila Jayapal, and Congressman James P McGovern who have urged the Indian government to lift the communication and movement block imposed in Kashmir and free the citizens who have been detained. US has said it was closely monitoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision to scrap special status and divide the state into two Union Territories on August 5.
The Indian government has argued that its decision on Article 370 was driven by a desire to increase economic development, reduce corruption and uniformly apply all national laws in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in regard to women and minorities, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells told Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“While we support these objectives, the US State Department remains concerned about the situation in the Kashmir Valley, where daily life for the nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since August 5,” Wells said in a statement submitted to the Congressional subcommittee a day before the hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region.”
The US State Department, she said, has closely monitored the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision on August 5.
“While conditions in Jammu and Ladakh have improved, the Valley has not returned to normal,” Ms Wells said, adding the State Department has raised concerns with the Indian government regarding detentions of residents and political leaders, including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said. Postpaid mobile service has been restored in the Valley, but internet access remains intermittent, Wells said.
She said both foreign and local journalists have extensively covered developments in Jammu and Kashmir, but many have faced challenges in access and reporting due to security restrictions. “While exact figures are difficult to ascertain, we understand several thousand people have been detained over the past two months, although many have subsequently been released,” the top US diplomat said.
According to government sources, hundreds remain in detention – many without charges, under the draconian Public Safety Act, which allows for administrative detention of up to two years, Wells said. A report by Reuters says, police in Kashmir have detained 144 children, including a nine-year-old, since early August when the government revoked Article 370 and imposed a lockdown, according to a court-appointed committee’s report.
Another report by The Telegraph on Sunday said, the state administration in Jammu and Kashmir is forcing detainees to sign a bond that forbids them from speaking against “the recent events” in the state to secure their release.
Welcoming actions by India to improve the situation and address local grievances, Wells said the Home Ministry recently said statehood will eventually be restored to Jammu and Kashmir, reaffirming what Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his Independence Day speech on August 15.
The US, she said, also encourages the Indian government to follow through on its commitment to hold assembly elections in the state at the earliest opportunity. Some local political leaders were released earlier this month, a trend Wells said she hopes will continue.
Government offices, primary schools, and colleges are open, although student attendance remains low. The Supreme Court is planning to hear petitions related to Kashmir on November 14 and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court is reviewing cases. “While these steps are positive, they are incremental, and we continue to press India to restore everyday services, including SMS and internet communications, as swiftly as possible,” Wells said.