At the UN, It’s No to Hindu Rashtra, We are a Secular Country, the Land of Gandhi & Buddha: India

Faced with questions by 112 countries in its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN), attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who led the Indian delegation at the, said India makes no distinction between caste, creed, colour or religion of a citizen and is a secular country with no state religion. Another official who was part of the delegation says India is the land of ‘Gandhi and Buddha.’ None of the Hindutva ideologues, neither V. Savarkar nor Guru Golwalkar were mentioned as icons by India in its three and a half long review that concluded at 9.30 p.m. yesterday.

Mukul rohatgi

Several countries queried India on the plight of human rights, especially recent attacks on civil society through the mis-use of provisions of the FCR Act by the Modi government. There was no mention by the spate of lynchings of the minorities and Dalits by ‘Gau Rakshaks’ however. Ghana in its questions and comments made no reference, even obliquely, to the brute attack on African nationals in Delhi recently (this had caused a diplomatic crisis at the time) and the remarks of Israel and Iran –countries on two sides of the ideological and political spectrum—were virtually identical. Haiti however did bring up racism against African nationals in its comments.

Pakistan in its intervention spoke extensively and exclusively of the plight of Kashmiris and the violations by India in the region. Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, the Holy See (Vatican) and Canada and the United States asked the most searching questions to the Indian government on aspects of human rights violations especially in the past three years. The last UPR that India faced was in 2012.

Speaking at the 27th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group at the UNHCR here, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that the Indian Constitution enshrines various provisions for the protection of the rights and interest of the minorities. Moreoever, he also said the right to free speech and expression occupies its rightful place in the core of the Indian Constitution. “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,” Rohatgi told the member states.On the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Rohatgi said the Act is applied only to disturbed areas and these areas are very few and in proximity to some international borders.“Whether this Act should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country,” he said.

On transgenders, he said India has been at the forefront of recognising their equal rights. The Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement in 2014 directing the government to declare trans-genders a “third gender” and included them as an “Other Backward Class” entitled to affirmative action benefits.Rohatgi also mentioned the Supreme Court judgement that reinforced that trans-genders should have all rights under law, including marriage, adoption, divorce, succession and inheritance, Rohatgi added. He said India has made significant progress in addressing the special needs of persons with disabilities through its Accessible India Campaign, and by overhauling its legislative framework on the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with mental health issues. On global warming, he said India remains alert to the problem and as part of the thrust towards fulfilling its people’s right to a clean environment; it has launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan-Clean India Campaign nationwide.

Ironically, Rohatgi, who as attorney general has led the Modi government’s charge in what has been observed to be an assault on the independence of the Indian judiciary, applauded India’s higher judiciary for its ‘independence from the executive.”

The Ministry for External Affairs Statement on the eve of the 3rd UPR may be read here.

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