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Washington, Feb
13: Ahead of President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to India, four influential
US Senators, who described themselves as a “longtime friends of India”, have
sought an assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir and religious
freedom in the country, saying hundreds of Kashmiris remain in “preventive
detention”.

The bipartisan
group of Senators, in their letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated
February 12, said that India has now imposed the longest-ever internet shutdown
by a democracy, disrupting access to medical care, business, and education for
seven million people.

The Indian
government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019 that
granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and imposed severe curbs including
on movement of people as well as on mobile telephone and internet connectivity.

 

The crackdown
drew international criticism with several countries expressing concerns over
the situation in Kashmir. India has categorically told the international
community that its move to scrap Article 370 was an internal matter.

According to
officials, internet is being restored in the Valley in a phased manner after
reviewing the security situation.

The US lawmakers,
describing themselves as “longtime friends of India”, wrote in the letter that
“more than six months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government
unilaterally revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the government
continues to block most internet in the region”.

“Hundreds of
Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’, including key political figures,”
they said. Signatories to the letter are Chris Van Hollen, Todd Young, Richard
J Durbin and Lindsey O Graham.

“In addition, the
Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of
certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This
includes the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act which is
being challenged in India’s Supreme Court,” the Senators wrote.

In the letter,
the Senators requested Pompeo for a State Department assessment of a number of
issues in India including the number of individuals detained by the government
for political purposes and their treatment; current restrictions on
communications in Jammu and Kashmir; current accessibility of Jammu and
Kashmir; and restrictions on religious freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir.

The actions taken
by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir, they said, have severe
consequences.

That is why, in
the Fiscal Year 2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes
appropriations report, the Congress urged India to fully restore
telecommunications and internet services, lift its lockdown and curfew and
release the individuals detained pursuant to the Indian government’s revocation
of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Trump will pay a
state visit to India on February 24 and 25 at the invitation of Prime Minister
Narendra Modi, who on Wednesday said the US President’s visit will be a “very
special one” and it will go a long way in further cementing India-USA
friendship.

India maintains
that the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens,
including its minority communities.

It is widely
acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides
protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of
law further promote and protect fundamental rights, a senior official of the
Ministry of External Affairs has said.

According to the
CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities
who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014
following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

The Indian
government has been emphasising that the new law will not deny any citizenship
rights, but has been brought to protect the oppressed minorities of
neighbouring countries and give them citizenship.

Defending the
CAA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month said that the law is not about
taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship. “We must all know that
any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India
and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process.
There’s no problem in that,” he said.

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