India on Thursday asserted at the United Nations Human Rights Council that its Constitution protects the rights and interest of the minorities when it came under scrutiny in Geneva. Speaking at the 27th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said India does not distinguish its citizens on the basis of caste, creed, colour or religion.

Rohatgi reiterated that safeguarding the rights of minorities was an essential part of India’s polity, reported PTI. “India is a secular state with no state religion,” he told the member states. He added that the right to free speech and expression is at the core of the 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,” said the attorney general, according to PTI.

Rohatgi also defended the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and said it applied only to “disturbed” areas that are in close proximity to international borders. “Whether this Act should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country,” he further added. Meanwhile, Pakistan highlighted the ongoing violence in Kashmir and demanded a ban on the use of pump action or pellet guns by Indian forces. Pakistan also urged India to allow a UNHRC fact-finding team to visit the Valley.

When the delegation from the neighbouring country raised the matter of “mob violence” against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits, India said, “We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation.”

Apart from Pakistan raising questions about India’s treatment of minority groups, Italy, Israel, and Japan urged India to abolish the death penalty and ratify the international convention against torture that New Delhi had signed 19 years ago. United States and Germany also wanted India to review the 2010 law that governs the foreign funding for civil society groups, reported NDTV.

Rohatgi also spoke about how India has recognised the rights of transgender people and caters to the needs of disabled people. He repeatedly mentioned the role the judiciary played in upholding human rights in India. He used the word “court” at least 21 times, according to NDTV. He added that India takes the issue of women’s empowerment seriously and has taken steps to ensure a safe and dignified work environment for them.