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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Watching the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Hearing on Human Rights in South Asia was like having a front row seat to a Colonizer Board Meeting

I knew going into the hearing that the master, Western narrative about Kashmir would dominate. I just had no idea how openly bigoted our progressive elected officials could be, running a curated story about human rights violations that relied so blatantly on circular logic, colonizing tropes, and selective concern. It also reaffirmed, for me, the deadly combination (no exaggeration) of American (United States) entitlement, exceptionalism, and willful ignorance that plagues this nation and has hurt so much of the rest of the world.

I am compelled to begin with the following observation: The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee brazenly ignored and officially erased the genocide and (seven iterations of) ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits — the indigenous people of the land — from the Kashmir Valley during its hearing on human rights violations in South Asia.

This is because the entire hearing was predicated on Hinduphobia and the specter of rampant Hindu Islamophobia. The fact that indigenous Hindus were driven from their ancestral land by militant Kashmiri Muslims is inconvenient to that narrative.

As I watched the spectacle unfold, the normalcy of censoring of Hindus in the media and popular discourse — and now, within the formal chambers of democracy — became painfully apparent. I have come to recognize that what makes Hinduphobia so insidious is that it promotes anti-Hindu Dharma and anti-Hindu fear as socially and morally good. It is the modern version of old-school colonizing, missionary rhetoric. Which means it is completely camouflaged and very difficult for people to understand.

In his opening, Congressman Levin states to Chatterji and Kaul, “I want to thank you for your scholarship, for your work on the ground, the different roles you play […] I’ve spoken out about what happened in Kashmir, and caught a lot of heck for it but I don’t really care…um…it’s really important that we speak the truth about these matters [audience claps]” (Part II: 1:17:29). He is not talking about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, and neither did they.

Hindus cannot speak counternarratives to the anti-Hindu master narrative without being deemed fascist (which is not only ironic, but precisely and painfully how colonization works) and accused of legitimizing the “Hindu nationalist regime.” What I came to learn during the hearing was that Hindus are not even allowed to take a “neutral” stance, where we defensively forefront the plight of other communities and don’t speak about Hindus.

Hindus are only taken seriously by the West if we reinforce — with vigor and “insider authority” — the dominant anti-Hindu narrative: that Hindu Dharma is fundamentally corrupt. This is framed by determinations of the Bharatiya subaltern that are sourced in the Western Academy and also by the convenient framework of “Hindu” that is deployed by these same people, which allows only them to define what is Hindu.

It is telling that, as an emergent scholar, whenever I have mentioned “Hindu identity” in an academic setting, the first — and often only — question I have been asked is about examining caste privilege. Not once have I been asked what it’s like to be a descendant from an ancient indigenous civilization that survived a thousand years of colonization, living in a world that is dominated by the two religions that colonized us.

Apparently a U.S. Congressman of color can enter into evidence during a House Committee hearing Catholic and Evangelical Christian journals that report on Christian persecution. But a Hindu’s perspective is not legitimized unless it is laced with self-hate and a “critical” analytical lens that is informed and authorized by a lineage of academic theorizing that emerged from the voracious and distorted colonial gaze.

Bharatiya agency and the right to act upon legitimate Bharat’s security concerns do not appear to register to the U.S. government; two U.S. Congresswoman of color warned Secretary Wells and Aarti Tikoo Singh about bringing Pakistan into the conversation. As a lifelong New Yorker, this immediately recalls 9/11. The U.S. can strip us of our shoes at the airport for twenty years because of one attack in 2001, but Bharat is not permitted any allowance to protect herself?

In fact, Secretary Wells had to repeatedly remind the committee that Bharat is a functioning democracy; this was met with words and looks of barely disguised disdain. Members of the government openly scoffed at this. Remember, the infantilization of and disdain for brown people’s intelligence and our ability to self-govern is a hallmark of the colonizer.

At one point, U.S. Congressman Yoho (the Ranking Republican member of the Committee) bemoaned the fact that other countries could not seem to live up to the high standards of the United States (details in my analysis below). He said this without a trace of irony. Sir, it is not Bharat’s highest objective to become more like the United States, in 2019 or in any other year.

Contrary to what most of the committee seemed to believe, the United States did not invent cultural and religious plurality. The assumption that it did and Bharat ought to become like the U.S. — through force if needed — is the kind of civilizing, “modernizing” logic that is at the foundation of colonization and, unfortunately, also that of the hearing.

Liberation does not mean “Made like the U.S.A.”.

U.S. understandings of religious bigotry are not grounded and informed by the same scope of history as Bharat’s. In the United States, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are recognized (in progressive circles) on personal, systemic, and discursive levels, as they should be. People understand well that asking a Muslim to answer to Islamic fundamentalism when they are sharing a story about Islamophobia is the very definition of Islamophobia. Hindus are not afforded this same logic. Hinduphobia is (maybe) recognized if the news reports a violent attack on a Hindu person. Broader, systemic Hinduphobic narratives are not only unrecognized, they are elevated as socially just.

So when it came time to contacting representatives, it is entirely plausible that Kashmiri Muslims, Bharatiya Muslims, and Muslims, in general, felt they would be met with sympathy in speaking to their representatives and that Kashmiri Hindus, Bharatiya Hindus, and Hindus in general did not share that confidence. It is entirely plausible that Hindu Americans are afraid of being read as Islamophobic when they are actually expressing legitimate concern about Hinduphobia and Hinduphobic narratives.

As a result, only certain anecdotes and perspectives got amplified by members of Congress during the hearing, and these neatly reinforced the dominant Hinduphobic narrative. As a Hindu American, it was shocking to finally realize about how undemocratic and biased a seemingly simple democratic mechanism can be.

The Hindu American community must wake up.

But does this even matter to Hindus living in Bharat? On one hand, I get the criticism coming from Hindus in Bharat. Who cares about what a group of ignorant, imperialist, narcissistic U.S. government officials think? Bharat is a sovereign nation with agency, democratic mechanisms, and a high level of self-awareness. Bharat doesn’t need U.S. approval. Coming from a post-colonial nation, that sentiment makes a lot of sense.

At the same time, this sentiment ignores the reality. This isn’t about approval, nor is it appropriate to assume that every country exists in a vacuum, which we know isn’t true. The U.S. and Bharat exist within global circuits of power and money and the military industrial complex and international alliances (e.g. the U.S. with Pakistan) that very much have an impact on the lives of Bharatiya Hindus.

The American Academy has been the production house of Hinduphobia since it took over from the German and British Academies in the middle of the 20th century, when “colonization ended.” Academic, media, and pop-activist Hinduphobic constructions from the West(ern perspective) impact how governments think about Hindu Dharma and Bharat, and ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. It’s not going anywhere. If anything, it’s spreading.

Just take a look at the multibillion dollar Yoga Industrial Complex, and the Western Academics — “South Asian” and otherwise — who invent scholarship about Hindu Dharma to substantiate the narrative that yoga is not actually Hindu, or that yoga ought to be cleaved from the oppressive grip of Hindu Dharma. The West makes a killing off the back of Hindu erasure, so why wouldn’t they attack the source?

Which is why I don’t think using terms like colonizer board meeting is an exaggeration at all.

Following is my detailed analysis of the hearing. It is long, but shorter than five hours, and supports my observations above.

(Links to the hearings: Panel I Panel II)

I will preface this by saying that I don’t necessarily agree with how the Bharatiya government has handled the process since August 5th, but I also don’t pretend to know or comprehend all the details and refuse to pivot off of fear-based narratives that have spiraled out of control. I do know that even if the anecdotes we’re hearing have been exaggerated, the optics are horrible. At best, it’s a public relations disaster. At worst, it’s a human rights one. And there’s a whole range of possibility in between.

However, this is about the hearing.

Congressman Brad Sherman, you’re heading a subcommittee on South Asia; you know the panelists’ names in advance. Learn how to pronounce them. Even a good high school principal would have the decency to learn her students’ names for graduation. You are an elected official of the United States Government with apparent care for a region of the world where the names are not what you’re used to. You butchered it, with that too-familiar expression of monocultural American sorry-not-sorry-your-name-is-just-too-exotic. (Nice job publicly exotifying your brown witnesses.)

This includes Kashmir (kaśmīr), which they consistently mispronounced throughout the day as Cashmere. (This is not a small thing. Kashmir is named after Rishi Kashyapa, a revered Vedic sage. The complete erasure of Kashmir’s Hindu indigenous roots and people was a dominant feature of the hearing as the goal was clearly to promote fear about Hindu Dharma. Recognizing the persecution of Hindus would pop that bubble.)

Congressman Sherman also referred to Bharat as Israel at one point, and South Asia as Southeast Asia. He also didn’t know where Srinagar was, asking if it was “a city in Jammu.” (Part II: 1:54:54)

This was (partly) emblematic of the entire hearing: we will keep comparing Bharat (a post-colonial nation) to the United States (a settler colonial nation), because the U.S. is the gold standard and the norm and every piece of information that nuances the master narrative or provides a counternarrative and centers Bharatiya context and history will be dismissed or drowned out.

It was mesmerizing.

It was as if these members of Congress had a BuzzFeed level of information about the region and were not interested in hearing anything other than reinforcement of their ideas, in the name of “bold” truth-seeking and information-gathering. (The colonial history of boldness from the West is contingent upon proving the barbaric otherness of the East.)

The baseline circular logic was: because of the communications “blackout” (which Secretary Wells repeatedly corrected as diminishing) and because American journalists have not been allowed in the region, we have very little information about what is happening in Kashmir. But we do know for a fact that there are massive human rights violations happening and that the anecdotes we hear from our constituents proves this. And the dangerous and untrustworthy Hindu nationalist government is behind this.

Five hours is too much to deconstruct (and I don’t get paid to do this) so I’m going to try and summarize the broad themes, as I saw them unfold.

Disproportionate time on Kashmir. Although the hearing was meant to be about South Asia, the majority of the time was spent reaffirming select human rights violation narratives about Kashmir. “Kashmir is hardly the only human rights issue in South Asia, but it’s the one that’s in the news and attracting attention around the country,” declared Congressman Sherman (Part II: 17:50).

Notice how he doesn’t comment on or even wonder about why that might be the case. Meanwhile, there are blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where Hindus and other religious minorities are persecuted regularly (and for years) with impunity; children are raped, murdered, and forced into conversion.

In fact, Fatima Gul gave an opening statement with great and grave concerns about ongoing human rights violations — including rape and kidnapping — in Balochistan.

Here are 2019 country/region ranking from Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization.

Freedom House’s metrics are publicly available and transparent. (Note, for the subcategory scales, the lower the score, the better. For the aggregate score, the higher the better.) Why are we not talking about these other countries that are measurably worse?

Sensationalism. Individual anecdotes are amplified into sensational sound bites. For instance, reports of pellet gun use that blinded a child (which is horrible, of course) led to the Bharatiya government ceasing that method two years ago, as Secretary Wells reported. Nevertheless, even after hearing that the tactic had been abandoned, the committee member stated “So, the Bharatiya government is blinding children.”

Perpetuating Narrative-Driven Conjecture as Fact. There are plenty of examples. Here are just two.

  • The National Citizenship Registry in Assam was mentioned repeatedly, with great concern that Muslims were being singled out. This is not based in fact, and yet the suggestion that Muslims were likely being targeted because of the Hindu nationalist narrative was carried forward as if it were. Hindus have also been excluded from the registry. (In fact, the mainstream media has accused the BJP of expression concern that Hindus were excluded. The Hindus just can’t get it right.)

Additionally, Hindus in Assam are religious refugees from Bangladesh, where they have been persecuted with such force that they have no choice but to flee to Bharat. The number of Hindus in Bangladesh has dropped from 22% of the population 1951 to 8.4% in 2011. Alternately, the Muslims immigrants in Assam are not religious refugees. The possibility that this may be why the BJP expressed concern about Hindus in particular is not circulated in mainstream media, of course.

  • Congressman Lieu asks Bencosme, of Amnesty International, “And, would you say, the current government has intentions of essentially having Bharat be one religion?” (Part II: 1:45:00). The Government of Bharat has neither declared nor demonstrated an intention for every Bharatiya to be Hindu. This is purely narrative-driven fear-mongering. Bencosme, to his credit, replies that as an organization that relies on a high level of evidence, he cannot speak to a government’s motivation, but then says that there’s evidence — including like the evidence put forth by Congressman Lieu!— of increased violence towards religious minorities. (He fails to mention that there is also violence towards Hindus. See the next point.)

Erasing Jihadism/Erasing Human Rights Violations Against Hindus.

  • Brad Sherman referred to the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, who are the indigenous population to the region, at the hands of Kashmiri jihadists, as “when the Pandits left the region”. Kashmiri Pandits are living as refugees in Bharat and throughout the world. On what progressive planet is an ethnic cleansing referred to as “they left”? This is a violent and dangerous erasure.

“As the night fell, the microscopic community became panic-stricken when the Valley began reverberating with the war-cries of Islamists, who had stage-managed the whole event with great care; choosing its timing and the slogans to be used. A host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, incited the Muslims to come out on the streets and break the chains of ‘slavery’.

These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the Kafir in order to ring in the true Islamic order. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits.They were presented with three choices — Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish). Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims poured into the streets of the Valley, shouting ‘death to Bharat’ and death to Kafirs…”

  • Congressman Lieu posits that the Bharatiya government is not only “persecuting Christians”, “it’s all religions that are not Hindu” and then goes on to submit an article from The National Catholic Reporter. He then suggests that they turn the discussion to a part of Bharat that’s “more Muslim than Hindu” without addressing how it became that way.
  • Congresswoman Ilhan Omar smears Aarti Tikoo Singh’s reputation (beginning at Part II 1:36:57), starting by indirectly accusing her of being a “mouthpiece” of the Bharatiya government. “In your version of this story, the only problems in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants” (Part II 1:37:32).
  • Omar then reframes the militants as separatists, “and are all nefariously backed by Pakistan.” She then asks Kaul and Chatterji (the latter who is demonstrably linked with ISI) what they think about it, without giving Singh an opportunity to respond. (Sherman, at the very end of the hearing and upon Singh’s express request, gives her a very brief moment to respond.)

Selective Concern for Human Rights.

  • Only one U.S. Lawmaker — during a hearing on Human Rights in South Asia — asked when Kashmiri Pandits would be able to return to their indigenous land. This was not a broader concern of the panel. In fact, Aarti Tikoo Singh, a well-respected Times of India senior journalist who is a Kashmiri Pandit herself, was treated with thinly veiled hostility, was cut off because of “time limits” when other witnesses were afforded leniency, and was barely regarded as an expert. She even made a point of not testifying from her position as a Hindu religious refugee. In fact, there was not one single voice representing the Hindu religious refugee perspective.
  • I also found it peculiar and disappointing (and indicative of the dominant anti-Hindu narrative that Hindus must dance around) that Aarti Tikoo Singh, in the name of neutrality, chose not to present the Kashmiri Pandit perspective, instead forefronting atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims. I suppose this is because there is so much pressure for Hindus to be secular and neutral that folks find themselves not even representing the legitimate oppression of Hindus. This was a real loss for everyone that was at the hearing, especially since Omar indicted her for pro-Hindu bias anyway.
  • Congressman Ted Lieu entered into evidence a Newsweek article where he states that Pastor Franklin is concerned that Christians are experiencing persecution in Bharat. Lieu also submitted an article from The Christian Post, an Evangelical Christian publication. Lieu then goes on to ask Bencosme, “It is correct, isn’t it, that the current government is persecuting Christians?” (Part II: 1:44:58) to which Mr. Bencosme responds that there have been documented incidents of violence against Christian minorities, and that “not all of them are…state-sponsored” (Part II: 1:45:06). Congressman Lieu then goes on to say that it’s not just Christians, “it’s all religions that are not Hindu” and then goes on to submit another article from The National Catholic Reporter. Why is the U.S. Government accepting into evidence reports from Evangelical Christian and Catholic publications?

Conflating “Muslim” with “Kashmiri”.

  • Brad Sherman kept comparing Kashmir to US States, including California and Texas, as evidence that he couldn’t imagine what it would be like to not afford their citizens’ a voice. This demonstrated that he has no understanding of the demographic makeup of the region and that residents of the region (such as in Ladakh) were in support of the abrogation.
  • Throughout the day, Sherman and other committee members referred to “Kashmiris” with an unspoken but discernible implication that Kashmiri meant Muslim. Kashmir was referred to as Muslim-majority, without any reference to how it became that way. In fact, the committee’s concern about Kashmir appeared, actually, to be a concern about Islamophobia, which is distinct from fact-based security concerns about Pakistani-driven jihadism in the region.

This was quickly dismissed by several members of the committee, most prominently by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D), co-chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, who dismissed any references to Pakistan during the first panel as she condoned the actions of the Pakistani army. (Why was a U.S. Congresswoman condoning the actions of the Pakistani army in a conversation about Kashmir?)

  • Additionally, Mr. Sherman invited a well-regarded Muslim American community leader to speak as a “witness”. Dr. Mahmood, who seems like a lovely person, repeatedly flattered Mr. Sherman, attested to the fact that he is not from Kashmir nor does he know any Kashmiris currently living there. However, he testified that he has strong feelings about what is happening in Kashmir. He spoke vaguely about fears of kidnapping and “losing futures”, and then proceeded to describe the way that trauma impacts the brain.

Dr. Mahmood, an internist, is neither a neurologist or psychologist, and has not published any research on trauma. In fact, if the committee were truly interested in the impact of trauma on the psyche, they would have invited someone like Dr. Rajat Mitra, a psychologist and activist who researches refugee trauma and has worked extensively in Kashmir for decades. It was not clear how Dr. Mahmood’s testimony was expert to the topic at hand, other than for Brad Sherman to prove that he is not Islamophobic because a Muslim person loves him.

  • Sherman also repeatedly makes a case during the second session (Panel II) that while it’s unfortunate that no Kashmiri Muslim was represented, the “Kashmiri groups” approved of Chatterji and Kaul. He expressed no similar concern for the lack of Kashmiri Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, or Hindus on the witness panel.

Conflating the lockdown with (the abrogation of) Articles 370 and 35a.

This happened relentlessly and across both sessions.

Congressman Levin reflects to Bencosme that “as someone who traveled to Kashmir and Ladakh over thirty years ago[…]it’s hard for me to take seriously that this is being done for the economic development of Kashmir and to unleash [raises hands up and the audience claps]. Can you or others speak to this argument? Is tourism blossoming and so forth?” (Part II: 1:21:05)

Obviously the Bharatiya government is not referencing the lockdown when it talks about economic development, so Mr. Levin’s commentary is unnecessary, specious, and patronizing. The Bharatiya government is talking about the restrictions imposed by Article 35A, which restricted the ability for non-residents to invest in the state in terms of permanent capital (i.e., property). Also, this is based on ground knowledge as a tourist from over thirty years ago? Also Bencosme is neither an economist nor a development expert. No one on the panel is.

Congresswoman Omar says that Singh is making a feminist case for the lockdown. “You also make the incredibly dubious claim that the Bharatiya government’s crackdown is good for human rights. If it was good for human rights, Ms. Singh, it wouldn’t be happening in secret. You make what I might call a feminist case for the occupation of Kashmir and the communication shutdowns, saying it would be better for women.” Part II 1:37:49)

However, Singh is clearly referring to the gender discrimination that undoubtedly was being carried out through Articles 370 and 35A. She testifies that “as a Kashmiri woman, it [Article 35a] denied me the right to pass my inheritance to my child because I am married to a non-state subject of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore to say that it is not gender discriminatory is wrong.” (Part II: 1:56:30)

Ignoring Counternarratives.

Aarti Tikoo Singh, the only witness at the entire hearing who has spent time on the ground in Kashmir before and after the abrogation, testified that she had spoken to doctors in the region.

A lot of panelists have been saying there is no healthcare…I visited all the three hospitals in Srinagar, the major hospitals in the Kashmir Valley. I spoke not only to the health care practitioners but also to the patients, their attendees, as well. And the common refrain was, of course, that there is a communication blockade, but they were able to access healthcare because this was not the first time Kashmir has been under a lockdown.

In 2016, Kashmir was put under a lockdown by the militants and by separatists backed by Pakistan for almost six months. The hospitals and other basic essential services in Kashmir are used to such contingencies and they have worked …functioned smoothly in previous lockdowns as well. So, therefore, to say that this particular lockdown was different is, again, wrong.

The healthcare is fundamentally run by Kashmiri Muslims themselves. It is Kashmiri Muslim civilians who are doctors, who are pharmacists and health care practitioners in Kashmir and they had stocked health care equipment and medicines for at least three months. So, again, I would say the record needs to be set straight on this.” (Beginning Part II: 1:54:45)

However, the anecdata and fear-based narrative, once again, won the day.

In the earlier session, no matter how rationally, thoughtfully, and sophisticatedly Secretary Wells presented both her knowledge of the region and her respect for democratic systems, she was repeatedly asked the same questions. “We hear human rights violations are happening, how can the U.S. force the Bharatiya government to behave?” Wells was prepared and kept trying to have a more nuanced dialogue, but no one else seemed up for it. (Wells should get a medal for her patience.)

American Exceptionalism/Imperialism.

(There are so many examples.)

The committee kept repeating that no US newspapers were able to report from inside Kashmir. When Aarti Tikoo Singh countered this with the fact that Bharatiya journalists have been allowed, Congressman Sherman acquiesced that U.S. newspaper employees had been allowed, but held to the fact that no U.S.-passport holding journalists had yet been allowed in and therefore, the information was suspect. Because, of course, you can’t trust non-U.S./Bharatiya passport holders.

I’m going to quote directly from Congressman Yoho, because it speaks for itself. (Part I: 1:30:00)

“Should the United States pull out because other countries do not hold themselves to the high standards of the United States? Um, and that’s something we’ve talked about before, and that’s something I want to hear from you. Are our standards too high (motions with arms raised above shoulders) that other nations look up and say we can’t do this?

I look at the Human Rights Council, and President Trump pulled out in the summer of 2018. … I look at the list of people that are probably the top 10. Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, Bharat, Iraq, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and the council is Senegal. And certainly, I think, I can remove Japan but the rest of ’em have some form of — and I know this is going to irritate people and we’re gonna get calls — there’s human rights abuses that aren’t at the level that we would accept.

I think that’s fair to say. And my question to you. And I want to talk to both of you. … In Bharat, which religions are being treated fairly? And which ones unfairly? Because what I see are countries drifting away from American leadership.”

Congressman Brown (who sits on the House Committee on Armed Services) pushed Secretary Wells to state what “tools that the US government is using in our wide range, our large toolbox of economic, military, information, and diplomatic tools, to influence Bharat’s behavior” (Part I: 1:28:00)


  • Francisco Bencosme, a non-Bharatiya, non-Kashmiri employee of Amnesty International, was given more airtime than Aarti Tikoo Singh. Bencosme presented Amnesty International as a neutral organization of high rigor. “Almost one year ago today, the government of Bharat raided the office of Amnesty International for ten hours. They ordered some of our staff to not leave, locked the gates, and not use their mobile phones. Since the raids, our funds have been frozen, forcing Amnesty India to grind its work to a halt and to downsize its staff.” (Part II: 1:01:44)

Bencosme’s description is in line with the Hindu fascist regime narrative. What Bencosme failed to disclose — and the entire hearing and subcommittee did not acknowledge — was that “Amnesty International India was served a show-cause notice by the Enforcement Directorate for receiving foreign funds violating FEMA norms, now it has come to light that the organisation is using that fund to prepare reports on Kashmir with pre-decided conclusion to spread propaganda globally.”

  • While Congressman Sherman celebrated Angana Chatterji, she was actually fired from the California Institute for Integral Studies for unethical, fraudulent, and dishonest conduct, including intimidation and abuse of students. Additionally, she has promoted an ISI agenda, with close ties to Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was arrested by the FBI in 2012 and convicted of illegally lobbying for the ISI. None of this information was made available to the public prior to her testimony. Instead, she was touted as a U.C. Berkeley scholar.
  • Congresswoman Jayapal referenced the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has come under fire for catering to far-right Christian agendas from non-Christian individuals as well as other international organizations. This “neutral” organization is currently led by Tony Perkins, who “has for years worked toward a definition of religious freedom that maximizes First Amendment rights for conservative Christians, while minimizing the rights of Muslims, nontheists, and members of other minority traditions.”
Courtesy Swarajya Magazine. The author is not affiliated with Swarajya or any of its members.

Demographic minority is conflated with systemically minoritization. Hindu institutions and people are disenfranchised by Bharatiya laws, while Islam and Christianity are supported by them. Hindu temples are (mis)managed and taxed by the government, and those moneys go toward subsidizing pilgrimages for Muslims, for instance. Bear in mind, these are colonial era holdovers, and the logic and historically-informed definitions of minority governing affirmative action in the United States do not pertain to religion in Bharat.

  • Nitasha Kaul argued that allegations that women and LGBTQ rights were curtailed in Kashmir before the abrogation were a “red herring” and that proceedings to overturn these were already underway. This is untrue.
  • Kaul and Chatterji claim that Kashmir is a political issue, not communal (religious) one. How is that possible? Well, first of all, it’s a false dichotomy vis-a-vis Pakistan, which was established as a religious state. And if you don’t acknowledge that Pakistani jihadists and Kashmiri Islamists were the force behind the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the region, (or water it down as Kaul does in this article), then it’s a convenient “neutral” stance to take.

Still hard to believe, since both women continue to publish literature that flies in the face of this. Chatterji’s publications include Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa which I refuse to hyperlink.

Throughout the entire five hour hearing, the subcommittee, visiting representatives, and witnesses bemoaned the lack of eyes on the ground in Kashmir. The one person who has spent considerable time on the ground before and after the abrogation, is a religious refugee from the region, and has a stellar record for unbiased reporting was barely asked any questions, set aside her own Kashmiri Pandit identity and narrative (and has come under fire from her community for sacrificing the rare opportunity for the Kashmiri Pandit narrative to go on the record), and was, nevertheless, unfoundedly smeared as being biased in front of everyone else.

If she was a Muslim or a Christian religious refugee, would this have happened?

What needed to be heard more deeply.

Every single thing that Secretary Wells, Fatima Gul, and Aarti Tikoo Singh shared.

What also needed to be shared.

The missing perspectives of Kashmiri Pandit refugees. Their voices matter, their counternarratives matter, their connection to their ancestral land matters, their truth matters.

-by Indu Viswanathan

(This article was published on on October 25, 2019 and has been reproduced here with minor changes – references to ‘India’ have been replaced with ‘Bharat’ and that to ‘Hinduism’ with ‘Hindu Dharma’)

(Featured Image by Dip Chand (artist))

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