Kashmiri Muslims have suffered the most from attacks by Pakistan-sponsored militants and this is being ignored by the Western media and activists, journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh told a 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 Tuesday at the hearing on human rights in South Asia held by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
“In the last 30 years, militants killed more Kashmiri Muslim civilians than members of any other community,” Aarti Tikoo Singh said. 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 newspaper.
She said the Western press and a section of the Indian press present a “distorted reality of Kashmir”.
“While they are rightly highlighting instances of violations committed by the Indian security forces, the story is often presented without context and historical understanding and 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,” Aarti Tikoo Singh said.
She said that though she grew up in destitution as a Kashmiri Pandit refugee, 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 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 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,” she said.
Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN) responded by saying 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 problems in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants.”
Aarti Tikoo Singh responded that she had reported on various issues “from human rights violations committed in Kashmir to the lynchings over beef in mainland India”.
She said, “I have a record of being nonpartisan throughout in my profession of the last 20 years. So, for Ms Omar to make such accusations against me is really condemnable.”
Rather than being one-sided, Singh said, she had during her testimony acknowledged the abuses by security forces. “In confronting the Pakistan-sponsored militancy, the Indian army and state police have also committed grave human rights abuses,” she said.
Omar was supportive of two others of Indian descent, Nitasha Kaul and Angana Chatterji, who gave testimony critical of India.
Kaul, an associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster in England, said there was a “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir.
Characterizing the ouster of Pandits from Kashmir as a result of attacks on them as a “mass migration”, she blamed the government for it. “The Indian state, which has claimed sovereignty over Jammu & 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 criticized “much of Indian media” which she said “has been acting in an embedded manner merely regurgitating the state narrative without critical questioning”.
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 Aug 5.
Chatterji, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, characterizing the Kashmir developments as an outcome of their 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.
She and Kaul listed the various repercussions of the restrictions on communications and travel that 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 terrorism had played in the developments in Kashmir and said why not call 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 to end slavery and guarantee freedom for all. He said sometimes freedom even requires “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 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 neighbors in Afghanistan and India. “That nations use terror as part of statecraft cannot be permitted,” he said. “I’d argue even more: counterbalance is a failed pillar of statecraft and ought to be abandoned.”