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Insights into Editorial: Culture and peace: On India’s stand against ‘UN’s selectivity on religions’

UN_Summit

Context:

“Culture of Peace” session organised by the UN General Assembly. The UN has organised such sessions each year since 1997.

In a strong statement at the UN General Assembly discussing resolutions of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) on the ‘Culture of Peace’, India criticised the world body for what it called “selectivity” in seeking to protect Abrahamic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism over others.

Speak for all religions, India tells United Nations:

First Secretary at India’s Permanent Mission to the UN, has asked the United Nations to expand its criticism of hatred and violence against religions beyond the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

At the outset, state that we fully agree that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Christian acts need to be condemned and India firmly condemns such acts.

However, UN resolutions on such important issues speak only of these three Abrahamic religions together.

“This UN resolutions fails to acknowledge the rise of hatred and violence against Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism also.”

Instances of rise of hatred and violence against Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism:

The shattering of the iconic Bamyan Buddha by fundamentalists, the terrorist bombing of the Sikh gurdwara in Afghanistan where 25 Sikh worshippers were killed and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and minority cleansing of these religions by countries, call for condemning such acts against these religions also.

But the current Member States refuse to speak of these religions in the same breath as the first three ‘Abrahamic’ religions.

The United Nations however has condemned such acts. For instance, in 2001, the General Assembly adopted a resolution without a vote condemning the Taliban for destroying cultural artefacts, including the Buddhist sculptures in Bamiyan.

Criticism to India by UN on many Incidents:

India’s concerns over the UN resolutions that portray only three religions as victims of religious hatred are completely valid, and it is important that they are broadened to include every community that faces religion-based violence.

It is also important that the government thwarts Pakistan’s particularly insidious attempts to create a controversy against India at this time, by pushing these resolutions as India steps to take its two-year seat at the UN Security Council.

India has been concerned by an increase in intrusive language from the UN bodies concerned as well, given that UNAOC issued a statement of “grave concern” over the Delhi riots in February this year that it said resulted in casualties of “mostly Muslims”.

India is keen to push back on the UNAOC and other UN arms, like the UN Human Rights Council, that have criticised the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

As it seeks to do all of this, however, the government must be careful about ensuring that in exposing the UN’s “selectivity” it doesn’t open a flank for a counter-charge against India.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, for example, has been criticised for offering fast-track citizenship to only a select group of religions, leaving out Muslims.

India cannot call for a culture of peace that stitches together an alliance of faiths, while Indian States bring laws that seek to make difficult inter-faith marriages.

Pakistan transferring the management and maintenance of the Holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib away from the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee, a body run by the minority Sikh Community, to the administrative control of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, a non-Sikh body.

The unilateral decision by Pakistan is highly condemnable and runs against the spirit of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor as also the religious sentiments of the Sikh community at large.

Indian Constitution and concept of Indian Secularism:

  1. The term ‘Secular’ was added to the preamble by the forty-second constitution Amendment Act of 1976, (India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic).
  2. Article 14 grants equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all, Article 15 enlarges the concept of secularism to the widest possible extent by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  3. Article 16 (1) guarantees equality of opportunity to all citizens in matters of public employment and reiterates that there would be no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth and residence.
  4. Article 25 provides ‘Freedom of Conscience’, that is, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.
  5. Article 26, every religious group or individual has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
  6. Article 27, the state shall not compel any citizen to pay any taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious institution.
  7. Article 28 allows educational institutions maintained by different religious groups to impart religious instruction.
  8. Article 29 and Article 30 provides cultural and educational rights to the minorities.
  9. Article 51Ae. Fundamental Duties obliges all the citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

India’s concerns over the UN resolutions:

The Indian delegate pointed out that previous resolutions of the UNAOC dating back to 2006 had repeatedly decried the hatred against those religions — “Islamophobia, Christianophobia and anti-Semitism” but didn’t condemn attacks on other religious groups including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, who have suffered terror strikes and seen their shrines destroyed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In particular, India said, the UNGA statement welcomed the Kartarpur Gurdwara corridor agreement between India and Pakistan, but failed to note that Pakistan’s government has taken over the management of the Sikh shrine, which it called a contravention of the agreement and a violation of Sikh beliefs.

India’s delegate also accused Pakistan of a “culture of hatred” against “religions in India” and fostering cross-border terrorism and said a culture of peace cannot exist until that is changed.

Above all, the Indian statement said, the UN’s selectivity under the aegis of the UNAOC, an organisation that was set up in 2005 to prevent polarisation between societies and cultures and to bridge differences between them, only serves to further the theory of an inevitable “clash of civilisations” instead.

Conclusion:

In the larger analysis, the force of India’s argument against the UN’s selective resolutions and non-inclusive language as well as the international efforts of adversaries such as Pakistan remains its own secular credentials enshrined in the Constitution and its pluralistic ethos.