In a sharp response to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's recent comments on a "rise in human rights abuses" in India, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has said "people" are entitled to have views about India's policies but at the same time, New Delhi is "equally entitled" to have views about them.
The Foreign Minister, in his first official reaction to the US statements on Wednesday, also appeared to refer to the hate attack on two Sikh men in New York.
At a joint news conference after the 2+2 dialogue of top US and Indian ministers on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said the US is monitoring some recent "concerning developments" in India, including what he called a rise in "human rights abuses" by some government, police, and prison officials.
Mr Blinken was speaking with Mr Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin by his side. Mr Jaishankar did not respond to the remarks at the conference but did so on Wednesday.
"Look, people are entitled to have views about us. But we are also equally entitled to have views about their views and about the interests, and the lobbies and the vote banks which drive that. So, whenever there is a discussion, I can tell you that we will not be reticent about speaking out," Mr Jaishankar said at a press briefing, adding that the human rights issue was not a topic of discussion during the ministerial meeting.
"I would tell you that we also take our views on other people's human rights situation, including that of the United States. So, we take up a human rights issues when they arise in this country, especially when they pertain to our community. And in fact, we had a case yesterday...that's really where we stand on that," said the Foreign Minister.
It was an apparent reference to two Sikh men assaulted on Tuesday in an alleged hate crime incident in Richmond Hills area of New York, US. The two - who were on an early morning walk - were attacked reportedly at the same location where a member of the community was attacked nearly 10 days ago.
The US Secretary of State's comments on human rights in India were seen as a rare direct rebuke by Washington of New Delhi in the middle of discussions over India's stand on Russia's Ukraine invasion.
Mr Blinken had said: "We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials".
The US State Department, in its 2021 country report on Human Rights Practices published yesterday, had said that there were "credible reports" of human rights issues, including "extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents" in India.
Mr Jaishankar's rebuttal has been seen in the context of incidents of hate crimes against the Indian community in the US. These incidents have increased by "200% in recent years", according to NY State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first Punjabi American ever elected to the New York State Office.
In January, a Sikh taxi driver was assaulted at JFK International Airport, with the attacker allegedly calling him "turbaned people" and asking him to "go back to your country".