At a time when India is experiencing a wave of hyper-nationalism, the country’s Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the international community that the South Asian powerhouse is a secular country with no state religion.
Rohatgi, who led the Indian delegation at the UN Human Rights Council, said on May 4 that there is no distinction between caste, creed, colour or religion of a citizen in India. He also assured the UN council that the Indian government would always safeguard the rights of minority community people.
Speaking at the 27th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group at the UNHCR in Geneva, the seasoned Indian diplomat rubbished neighbouring Pakistan’s claim that minorities are not treated well in the country. He said that the Indian Constitution preserves a number of provisions for the protection of rights and interest of the minority community people.
Rohatgi further informed the global community that India has always respected the right to free speech and expression, stressing: “As the world’s largest multi-layered democracy, we fully recognise the importance of free speech and expression. Our people are conscious of their political freedoms and exercise their choices at every opportunity.”
Earlier, the Pakistani delegation raised the Kashmir issue and urged the world body to ask India to stop using pellet guns against the minorities Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. In response, Rohatgi said: “We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation.” However, he admitted that the Indian troops had used pallet guns in Kashmir (on the basis of Armed Forces Special Powers Act). According to Rohatgi, the Indian state applies the Act only in disturbed areas that are close to its international borders with Pakistan. At the same time, he said: “Whether this Act should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country.”
As far as religious freedom in India is concerned, freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 15 and Article 25 of the Constitution. India amended the preamble of its Constitution in 1976 in order to include two words: “secular” and “socialist”. The preamble says: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.”
Rohatgi also informed the UN council that India recently adopted a policy in order to improve the condition of trans-genders. As it became important to recognise their equal rights, the Indian government gave the “third gender” status to transgender people, he said. Giving a landmark judgement in 2014, the Supreme Court asked the Indian government to declare trans-genders a “third gender” and allow them to enjoy special privileges. The Indian judiciary believes that trans-genders should enjoy all basic rights under law, such as marriage, adoption, divorce, succession and inheritance.
Just two days after Rohatgi described India as the world’s largest multi-layered democracy, two African women were harassed by their Indian co-passengers in a Metro Rail coach in New Delhi. On May 5, the African women were seen arguing loudly with some commuters over seats in the Metro coach. “Beat them, call the police” was heard over the commotion. Suddenly, one of the women started taking off her clothes, telling her co-passengers: “You want to fight….let’s fight.” Later, a gentleman stepped in, saying: “Please calm down. Nobody is trying to fight anybody.” His intervention restored sanity and the woman told him: “Thank you, brother.”
Recently, envoys of 44 African countries urged India to take “sufficient and visible deterring measures” to protect African nationals from attacks. It was a major diplomatic embarrassment for New Delhi, which admitted that there was an increase in the number of such incidents in different Indian cities in recent times.