New Delhi: Influential lawmakers in the US have expressed concern over the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the NRC issue in Assam as well the condition of minority communities in India.
During the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on human rights in South Asia Tuesday, the lawmakers said India needs to uphold its commitment to human rights as the world’s largest democracy.
The US Congressional hearings made headlines in India, particularly over the mention of the NRC.
ThePrint takes a look at eight key US Congress members out of the 14 present during the hearings, their statements on the two main issues raised and the work they do in their areas of governance.
Co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a senior whip of the Democratic Caucus, Pramila Jayapal serves as the US Representative from Washington’s 7th Congressional District as a Democrat.
She was the first Indian-American woman to be elected to Congress, in 2016. Last spring, the immigrant-rights activist was endorsed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A mentor to other Democratic leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Jayapal was arrested for protesting against President Donald Trump’s “inhumane” and “zero-tolerance” border policy in 2018.
This year, she will celebrate Diwali in the corridors of the Capitol Hill, along with other House members.
As the first Indian American woman elected to the House, I am proud to bring the values, traditions – and yes, the food! – of my birth country to the Halls of Congress.
Thank you @PKgourmet for this wonderful (and mouth-watering!) story.https://t.co/1qrnomHPd0
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) October 22, 2019
During the hearings on South Asia, the Indian-American Congresswoman voiced her concerns on India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
“I recognise that the situation is complex. I recognise that Pakistan is not without its share of responsibility… India as the world’s largest democracy and a critical ally for the US, needs to uphold its commitment to human rights,” said Jayapal.
Ilhan Omar, who received the maximum coverage for her remarks, represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. She joined the office in January, becoming the first Somali-American member of Congress.
Omar is a member of the House Budget Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. She also serves as a Midwest regional whip of the Democratic Caucus and the whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
During the hearings Tuesday, Omar proposed that US’ partnership with India “based on values” had been threatened due to the Modi government’s “Hindu nationalism project”.
On the issue of Assam NRC, she posed a question, “Are we waiting for Muslims in Assam to be put in detention?”
She also got involved in a spat with Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh over the Kashmir issue, and alleged that the latter was making “incredibly dubious” claims.
Serving his twelfth term in Congress and representing California’s 30th Congressional district, Brad Sherman was elected as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific earlier this year. He is also the Democratic co-chair of the Indian Caucus.
In his opening remarks at the Congressional meeting, Sherman said “the entire world is focused on what is happening in Kashmir”. He highlighted that Senator Chris Van Hollen had been denied permission to visit the Valley.
On the Assam NRC issue, he said that “human rights abuse doesn’t cease to be human rights abuse just because it is consistent with law”.
Sheila Jackson Lee
Representing the 18th Congressional district of Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee is serving her eleventh term as a United States Representative. She is a senior member of the House Committees on the Judiciary and Homeland Security, the co-chair of Congressional Pakistan Caucus, and the chief deputy whip of the Democratic Caucus.
Lee had also served as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. However, she resigned in January after facing a fallout from a lawsuit that alleged she had fired an aide who said she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at the Caucus.
At the Congressional hearings Tuesday, Lee asked if Kashmir was a “humanitarian crisis”. To this, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Robert Destro replied, “It is.”
She also demanded that Pakistan’s “sacrifices” in the war against terror be “recognised”.
Ted Yoho represents North Central Florida’s 3rd Congressional District.
Yoho was a ranking Republican member of the sub-committee at the Congressional hearings, and said “there was the need to look at Pakistan’s actions in keeping terrorism alive”.
US Representative from Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, Abigail Spanberger serves on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. She is also a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and the Women’s Caucus.
The freshman Congresswoman was a former CIA undercover officer and was one of the seven “moderate-to-conservative” Democrats who “co-authored an op-ed” for The Washington Post urging the “House to move toward an impeachment investigation” against Donald Trump.
At the hearings, she questioned, “How is the State Department accepting that at this time India, a close strategic partner… telling us that we cannot allow US diplomats to enter Kashmir?”
Jim Costa represents California’s 16th Congressional District, and has been serving as a US Representative since January 2005. He is the co-chair of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus and the Congressional Portuguese-American Caucus.
In the past, he has voiced his concerns on Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria and said, it “is disgraceful and deeply harmful to our national security”.
At the hearings, he asked a US state official about whether there were human rights violations in Kashmir. “I believe there have been human rights violations. Yes,” replied the official.
Mike Fitzpatrick, who has represented the 8th District of Pennsylvania, called on the US government at the Congressional hearings to “uncover the truth”.