When Modi govt mocked itself at UN by calling India a minority-friendly democracy

Sanghamitra Baruah
Sanghamitra BaruahMay 06, 2017 | 14:32

When Modi govt mocked itself at UN by calling India a minority-friendly democracy

Islamophobia, Afrophobia, crackdowns on freedom of expression, pellet guns blinding people, rapes and assaults by security personnel — were all these mere allegations, or the stark-naked truth of a democracy that is treading a dangerous path, now more than ever?

When the nation was asked these questions (on human rights violations), India, on May 4, proudly defended its secular, democratic credentials at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).


According to Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who led the Indian delegation at the 27th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, India is a secular state with no state religion and safeguarding the rights of minorities forms an essential core of its polity.

But without getting into constitutional semantics, what Rohatgi said doesn't seem to hold true amid the wide-spread allegations, especially when on most occasions, the government too didn't bother to clear the air. 

The attorney general's assertion couldn't be more ironic, especially when recent incidents of mob-lynchings of minorities have gone unnoticed and unaddressed.

Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader from Rajasthan's Alwar was lynched by self-styled 'gau rakshaks'. 

While people were getting killed over suspicions of smuggling cows, not on one but several occasions, the prime minister chose not to condemn a single death directly.

As it came under criticism from Pakistan at the UN over treatment of minorities, Rohatgi said that the Indian Constitution enshrines various provisions for the protection of the rights of the minorities and the most marginalised.

True, there are provisions in the Constitution, but are those rights and interests being protected? 

At least, the number of incidents involving rights violations don't say so. Sample this: In February this year, the Amnesty International, in its annual report, summarised how millions in India were opposed to changes to labour laws, and how the marginalised communities continued to be frequently ignored in the government's push for faster economic growth.


Talking about human rights violations in India, the report also brought forth the tensions between India and Pakistan following the 2016 Uri attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, and how demonetisation affected the lives of millions.

The same report also highlighted the crackdowns on freedom of speech in university campuses and how dissent was silenced under the Modi government.

At the UN, the Pakistan delegation also raked up the Kashmir issue and demanded a ban on the use of pellet guns in the Valley by Indian security forces. It asked India to allow a UNHRC fact-finding team to visit Kashmir and review the situation.

Although Rohatgi refuted all "allegations", Pakistan, whose own human rights record is abysmal, raised the issue of "mob violence" against minorities including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits in India.

It's a pity that India chooses not to acknowledge the presence of the deep, dark malaise that threatens the foundations of its rich democracy. 

When Rohatgi claimed that right to free speech and expression occupies its rightful place in the core of the Indian Constitution, he was evidently stating what's written in the Constitution, not what is in practice. 

The violent attacks on university and even court campuses in the recent past are a testimony of how the government has tried to silence free speech and branded all dissenters "anti-national". 


Recently, even former Delhi High Court chief justice AP Shah came down heavily on the "sloganeering and flag-raising" as nationalism tests, currently on the rise in the country.

Speaking at the MN Roy Memorial Lecture, Justice Shah pointed out the importance of free speech and other fundamental rights and liberties, barring which nationalism regresses into an "antiquated cult".

"Today, we are living in a world where we are forced to stand for the national anthem at a movie theatre, we are told what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot see, and what we can and cannot speak about. Dissent, especially in the university space, is being curbed, and sloganeering and flag raising have become tests for nationalism. We have a 21-year old university student who is subject to severe online hate, abuse, and threats, only because she dared express an opinion."

"This marker of 'anti-national' is used to intimidate and browbeat voices of dissent and criticism, and more worryingly, can be used to slap criminal charges of sedition against them."

Despite such repeated warnings against growing intolerance in the country, the government continued to ignore all kinds of rights violations and, in turn, encouraged the rabid fringe into becoming a majoritarian voice.

The attorney general couldn't have made a greater mockery of his own "beliefs" as he tried to claim that India has been at the forefront of recognising equal rights of transgenders. His argument, of course, was based on the Supreme Court's landmark judgement in 2014 directing the government to declare transgenders a "third gender", to include them as an "Other Backward Class" entitled to affirmative action benefits.

The apex court had reinforced that transgenders should have all rights under law, including marriage, adoption, divorce, succession and inheritance, Rohatgi told the UN.

But it's surprising that he is woefully ignorant of the ground realities

The attorney general is right, India is "world's largest multi-layered democracy". But all these incidents of state repression show that no layer of rhetoric — Smart Cities, Make in India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, digital India — can cover the ugly bigotry playing out in the country.

Last updated: May 06, 2017 | 14:32
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