ALP's federal Member for Wills, Peter Khalil has been criticised in recent days for his comments at a recent Melbourne event about the current situation in Kashmir. Speaking to SBS Punjabi about this, Mr Khalil has described himself as 'a friend of India', insisting that he had 'nothing to apologise for,' since he only relayed information he had gathered at parliamentary briefings.
Australian Labor Party's Peter Khalil, the Member for Wills, has faced backlash from many in the Indian-Australian community for remarks he recently made at an event, which was organised by a group named Australian Kashmiris.
As a member of the federal parliamentary sub-committee on Human Rights, he made a speech at an event in Moreland, saying he has made a "conscious effort to speak up and speak out against the rise of authoritarianism, against human rights violations where ever they happen," citing the plight of Kurdish, Somalis, Rohingya, Copts, Bahais, Rohingyas as well as people of Hong Kong and Kashmir.
He went on to cite "arbitrary arrests and detentions" in Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370 by the Indian government, going on to add that there are reports of "extrajudicial killings and human rights violations" in the northern Indian state.
"My role is to speak up in parliament and advocate to my colleagues in my party, and also to the government who can actually push harder on that level and make all the necessary representations in support of the human rights of the people of Kashmir. We’re undertaking that as best as we can," Mr Khalil said during the speech.
Some members of the Indian Australian community have expressed "shock and deep concern" at these comments, with one community leader Karthik Arasu calling them "very irresponsible."
"Has he made these allegations about extra-judicial killings in Kashmir on a personal level, or as a representative of the parliamentary committee? What is the basis of these allegations and of human rights violations? I believe Mr Khalil has tainted the entire Indian community with these remarks and must apologise," he told SBS Punjabi.
Mr Arasu has started a Facebook campaign to boycott Mr Khalil at Diwali events, and to press for an apology. It has gathered 800 signatures already.
Mr Khalil addressed all of these concerns during an exclusive interview with SBS Punjabi this week.
He explained the reason why he spoke at that particular event, and stood by all of his comments.
"When I spoke at this event, I relayed to the people at the event what was given to us by Australian government officials. The Australian government officials briefed the sub-committee on a number of things around the house arrests of some of the Kashmiri leaders, on the media blackout and communications blackout, and that they had made representations to Delhi on those issues. By the way, they had also made representations to Pakistan to cease and desist from aiding and abetting groups in violence or terrorist activities," he told SBS Punjabi.
When asked if he believed India has an authoritarian regime, as prefaced in his remarks in the speech at Moreland, Mr Khalil said "India is a democracy. It's a great democracy. And its important to clarify that I have been one of the greatest friends of India for over 20 years - I have been arguing that Australia's relationship with India has to be enhanced," adding "India's decision to revoke parts of its constitution is its internal matter and we have to respect it."
Asked about his statement about extra-judicial killings in Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370, Mr Khalil spoke about reports from the past, but couldn't point to any recent evidence, also accepting that government briefings were indeed intelligence reports, and "not facts".
He said he was aware of the two flags behind the podium from where he spoke - one of which represented Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, and the other flag representing the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is no longer hoisted in India. "I attend hundreds of multicultural events - you can't force the organisers to rip down what's in the background," Mr Khalil said.
When asked if he owed the Australian-Indian community an apology, Mr Khalil said "Well I haven't said anything against the Indian community."
When pressed further about an apology, he asked, "For what? For relaying what the Australian government officials had briefed us in parliament? I haven't made "
SBS Punjabi also asked Mr Khalil if he regrets making those comments, to which he responded, "In hindsight, you can always do things differently", adding "maybe I should have made it clearer that I'm a friend of India."
He accepted that people of Australian Indian background "have been hurt" and mentioned that he hasn't yet been to any Diwali celebrations. But he said his comments "shouldn't be regarded as anti-India", also denying that he was "selective" in raising his concerns only about the revocation of Articles 35A and 370, and not about the issues pertaining to Kashmiri Pandits.
"I support India. I think India is a great democracy - that doesn't mean I can't say that it does certain things that need to be looked at," he said.
Mr Khalil also wished the listeners a Happy Diwali and Bandi Chhor Diwas.
To hear the full interview with Mr Peter Khalil MP, please click on the audio link above.