India defended its move to compile a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam before the United Nations Human Rights Council today, terming it as a "transparent" exercise that's being taken up in compliance with the country's laws. "The National Register for Citizens is a statutory, transparent and non-discriminatory legal process mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court of India," diplomat Vijay Thakur Singh said at the meet, responding to concerns raised by a top-level official with the international body yesterday.
Over 19 lakh people were left out of the final NRC list published on August 31, concluding a five-year exercise that cost crores of rupees and gave rise to several controversies. However, few were satisfied with the final outcome. While human rights activists and opposition parties such as the Congress claim that thousands of genuine citizens were left out of the list, several BJP leaders have expressed displeasure over the exclusion of Hindu migrants at a time when the BJP government at the centre is on the verge of pushing through a legislation aimed at expediting citizenship for non-Muslims from other countries.
Ms Singh, in her statement before the rights council, said there was no reason to doubt the NRC process taken up by the Narendra Modi government. "Any decision that's taken during the process of its implementation will comply with Indian law and will be consistent with India's democratic traditions," she said.
The Indian diplomat's statement was seen as a response to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's criticism of the NRC process on Monday. Claiming that the exercise has created "great uncertainty and anxiety" among the people, she asked the Indian government to adhere to due process, prevent deportations and detentions, and ensure that nobody is left "stateless".
Ms Singh, in her response, said that India was committed to protecting human rights as a responsible member of the international community. "We believe that human rights are best protected when national institutions are strengthened. We do so as a nation of 1.3 billion people, which embodies the highest principles of democracy, tolerance and unity in diversity," she said, reaffirming the country's intent to "promote and protect human rights everywhere".
However, Ms Singh's speech largely dwelt on denying Pakistan's allegations of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir following the centre's decision to scrap its special status last month while pointing out that the neighbouring country was no champion of human rights itself. "Scrapping Article 370 was a parliamentary decision aimed at ending discrimination against our citizens in Jammu and Kashmir. Progressive policies will now be applicable to them, ending gender discrimination, protecting juvenile rights and giving them the right to education, information and work," she said, describing how the decision will actually be beneficial for residents of Kashmir.