The Kashmiri Muslims have suffered the most from the terrorist attacks by Pakistan-sponsored militants and this was being ignored by the Western media and activists, Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh has told a US Congressional hearing.
“What the foot-soldiers of the Pakistani military and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) have done to ordinary Kashmiri Muslims in the last 30 years, pales in comparison to the human rights violations committed by the Indian state,” she said on Tuesday at a hearing on human rights in South Asia held by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in Washington.
“In the last 30 years, militants killed more Kashmiri Muslim civilians than the members of any other community in Kashmir,” she added.
The terror perpetrated by Pakistan in Kashmir “has been completely ignored and overlooked by the world press,” said the senior assistant editor at The Times of India.
She said that the Western press and a section of the Indian press present 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.
“There is no human rights activist and no press in the world that feels it is their moral obligation to talk or write about the victims of Pakistani terror in Kashmir,” Singh said.
She said that although she grew up in destitution as one of the Kashmiri Pandit refugees, she was appearing at the hearing not as a representative of her community but as a “conscientious journalist who believes that the duty of a journalist is to be the watchdog of society”.
She spoke of Shujaat Bukhari, a senior Kashmiri journalist and peace activist who was killed by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists.
He was killed by the terrorist group which is banned by the US and carried out the Mumbai attack in 2008 because he “wanted Pakistan to end the violence and human rights abuse in Kashmir” and “because he wanted peace,” Singh said.
A leftist Democrat, Representative Ilhan Omar, attacked Singh personally.
She said that she knew of the “enormous audience at The Times of India” and “I am aware of how the narrative shaped by reporting can distort the truth I am also aware of how it can be limited to`sharing only the official side of the story. The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. In your version of the story, the only problem in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants”.
Omar has in the past made light of Islamic terrorism describing the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in 2001 that killed more than 3,000 people as “some people did something.”
Singh asked the Subcommittee Chair Brad Sherman to be allowed to respond to Omar.
She said that she had reported on various issues “from human rights violations committed in Kashmir to the lynchings over beef in mainland India.”
She added, “I have a record of being non-partisan throughout in my profession of the last 20 years. So for Ms Omar to say such accusations against me is really condemnable.”
Rather than being one-sided, during her testimony, Singh had also acknowledged the abuses by security forces.
She said, “In confronting the Pakistan sponsored militancy, the Indian army and state police have also committed grave human rights abuses.”
Omar was supportive of two others of Indian descent, Nitasha Kaul and Angana Chattrjee, who gave testimony critical of India.
Kaul, who is an associated Professor at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, said there was a “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir.
Characterising the ouster of Pandits from Kashmir as a result of attacks on them as a “mass migration”, she blamed the government for it.
“Indian state which has claimed sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir singularly failed to protect the minorities while suppressing the majority,” she said.
“The denial of democratic rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir affects not only the residents but also those living outside in India and overseas,” she said.
She criticised “much of Indian media” which she said “has been acting in an embedded manner merely regurgitating the state narratives without critical questioning about their legitimacy or justification.”
On the other hand, she said “some members of Indian civil society and independent fact-finding missions have reported about everyday life in Kashmir and suffering of the common people since the siege began” after Kashmir’s special status was rescinded.
Chatterji, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, joined Kaul in criticising the BJP and the RSS for the Kashmir developments characterising them as an outgrowth of the two organisatons’ ideology.
Their “Hindu majoritarianism — the cultural nationalism and political assertion of the Hindu majority — sanctifies India as intrinsically Hindu and marks the non-Hindu as its adversary,” Chatterji asserted.
Chatterji and Kaul listed the various repercussions of the restrictions on communications and travel that they said have affected the education and health of Kashmiris, sometimes becoming a matter of life and death.
They spoke extensively of what they said were the excesses and abuses of the security forces.
Ravi Batra, a community leader and chair of the National Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs, highlighted the role of terror that led to the developments in Kashmir asked, why not call the topic of the hearing, “‘Can We Let Terror Reign?’, or better yet, ‘Let’s Forget History and Public Safety’.”
What the “subcommittee has to address is: ‘How soon can we eradicate terror globally, so human rights can flourish everywhere,” he said.
“We must first eradicate terror and protect public safety, so law and order may govern society, and any violation of rights, be they constitutional, statutory, contractual or human rights, the Courts can fashion a just remedy one-case at a time.”
Regarding the restrictions on civil rights, Batra cited the example of the Civil War under Abraham Lincoln in the US to end slavery and guarantee freedom for all.
He said sometimes freedom even required “suspension of habeas corpus, to first keep the nation united, restore public safety, and only then, can a government ‘of, by and for’ the people govern justly.”
Batra said that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is aware that terrorists have taken residence in his country, and are a threat to US service members, as well as his neighbours in Afghanistan and India.
He added, “That nations use terror as part of statecraft cannot be permitted. I’d argue even more: counterbalance is a failed pillar of statecraft, and ought be abandoned.”