India was one of the founding members of the United Nations when it was formed in 1945 and had signed the Declaration by the United Nations in Washington D.C. on January 1, 1942. India participates in mostly all of the UNs specialized agencies and organizations (currently elected in 22 UN bodies). It is a staunch supporter of peace and equality. In fact, India is the only nuclear state that demands the total elimination of nuclear weapons. India’s contribution of personnel is more than any other country in the UN peacekeeping missions and has served in 49 out of 71 UN Peacekeeping Missions.
We witnessed an iconic moment in the recent 76th UNGA when Sneha Dubey came under the limelight after giving a “befitting reply” to Pakistan’s Imran Khan’s remarks on Kashmir at the UNGA. Sneha Dubey, IFS and the first secretary at the mission to the UN in New York, exercised her right to reply and responded to the baseless criticisms of Imran Khan over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. She replied, “Regrettably, this is not the first time the leader of Pakistan has misused platforms provided by the UN to propagate false and malicious propaganda against my country, and seeking in vain to divert the world’s attention from the sad state of his country where terrorists enjoy free pass while the lives of ordinary people, especially those belonging to the minority communities, are turned upside down.” She started trending online and occupied a top spot in the trends list of twitter with #SnehaDubey after the event.
This incident made me wonder since India is such an active member of this organization, it must have its fair share of iconic moments, some powerful speeches, some straight-up Savage comebacks, and some most important contributions to the organization. Let us have a look at a few of these moments.
1947-48 Hansa Mehta and Lakshmi Menon’s Contribution to UDHR
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered one of the ‘world’s greatest living documents’ . Two Indian women, Hansa Jivraj Mehan and Lakshmi Menon, played a significant role in formulating UDHR. Hansa Mehta insisted on rephrasing the line “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” in Article 1 of the Declaration. Lakshmi Menon, on the other hand, wanted incorporation of “non-discrimination based on sex” in the Declaration.
In 2018, even Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, lauded Hansa Viraj Mehta and other women for her contribution.
“Hansa Mehta of India, for example, without whom we would likely be speaking of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man rather than of Human Rights.”
1953- Vijaya Laxmi Pandit
Vijaya Laxmi Pandit was an Indian politician and diplomat who had created history by becoming the first woman President of the 8th session of the UN General Assembly. She was the senior-most civil servant at the United Nations during that time. In 1946 and again in 1952, she led the Indian delegation to the United Nations. In 1978, she was also appointed the Indian representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
She broke all the barriers and achieved a feat that we scarcely witness in International Politics. Since then, only two women have held this position- Angie Elisabeth Brooks, Libera (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, Bahrain (2006)
1957- The Unending Speech of V.K. Krishna Menon
On 23rd and 24th January 1957, India’s V.K. Krishna Menon, former Indian Envoy to the United Nations, created history with his speech that has been recorded as the longest statement made at the United Nations by the Guinness World Book of Records. He produced a whopping 7 hours 48 minutes-long statement to the United Nations Security Council defending the position of Kashmir and tearing down Pakistan’s propaganda on the region. The speech was so long that while delivering his speech, he collapsed due to exhaustion and had to be rushed to the hospital, but he later returned and continued for another hour, under the constant supervision of a doctor who was monitoring his blood pressure till his speech was over. The transcript of his speech was 160 pages long!
2014- International Yoga Day
On December 11, 2014, India created another history when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution to commemorate June 21 as International Yoga Day. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his speech at the UNGA 2014, proposed the idea for this initiative by saying, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment, harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being… Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”(reference)
A record of 177 countries supported the resolution, among the highest number of supporters ever for any UNGA resolution. The date June 21 was selected because it is also called the ‘summer solstice’ and is considered the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, thus holding a special significance.
2016- Celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti at the UN
On April 14, 2016, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s 125th Birth Anniversary was celebrated for the first time by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (along with Kalpana Saroj Foundation and Foundation For Human Horizon) in Geneva with a special event organized at the headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
This day focused on observing the inequalities that needed addressing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The event was considered to be the first step towards the United Nations 2030 Agenda of SDGs, aiming ‘to combat inequality within and among countries to create sustained inclusive and sustainable growth. Later the UN also celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti in 2017 and 2018. India has also proposed to the international community to declare this day as “International Equality Day.”
2019- Trisha Shetty’s Iconic Speech “We’re Laughing To Make Sense of This Madness”
Her speech is considered one of the most powerful speeches from the 2019 UNGA by the United Nations Foundation along with Youth Climate Activist Greta Thunberg’s “How Dare You?” and WHO’s Director-General Dr. Terdos Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ “Our Vision Is Not Health For Some” among others. During an event hosted by the UNGA, UN Foundation, and other partners to accelerate the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goals by building coalitions ‘to demand, implement, and accelerate action to kickstart the final decade of delivery’.
Trisha Shetty, an Indian activist and founder of SheSays that works to stop gender discrimination in India, delivered the opening speech. During that speech, she talked about her experience in Assam. She said, “Most of these women live below the poverty line, barely making a few cents a day, complaining about how a lot of the men are prone to alcohol addiction, not carrying their weight.” “They told me a story. They have one ambulance there… But the ambulance is barely functioning. So what they do is they put the person in the ambulance. Then ten people surround the ambulance and physically push the ambulance with the hope that the ambulance will kickstart… And they all laughed. And I laughed. And it took me a minute to realize we’re laughing to make sense of this madness.” (reference)
Her honesty and how she told the story resonated a lot with the audience. It motivated them to do more for the community.
“The reason I am sharing this with you is I want you to for a brief minute think of your community, think of your people, because those are my people. I made a commitment to them to make sure their struggles are heard and ensure they have access to their fundamental rights. Because currently they are being deprived of access to their fundamental rights.”(reference)
2019-2020 India Taking a Leadership Role for Climate Change
During the 74th UNGA Session, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended high-level meetings like- Climate Action Summit. Prime Minister also hosted two major plurilateral agreements
- Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) on September 24, 2019
- Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on September 25, 2019
This was the first time Summit-level meetings took place with these two groups. The prime minister announced several measures to increase the partnership with the countries belonging to these groups.
2019- Gandhi Solar Park
Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary, the leaders jointly inaugurated the Gandhi Solar Park during the high-level event “Leadership Matters: Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the Contemporary World” hosted by PM Narendra Modi. The solar park consisted of 193 solar panels, symbolic of the 193-member states of the United Nations. The UN executed it at the cost of one million dollars. A special postage stamp commemorating Mahatma Gandhi was released.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attended the event, President of the Republic of Korea Mr. Moon, PM of New Zealand Ms. Jacinda Ardern, and other dignitaries.
2020- Dr. Harsh Vardhan elected as WHO’s Executive Board Chairman
In 2020, during the virtual session of the 73rd World Health Assembly, Dr. Harsh Vardhan of India (Former Union Minister and Family Welfare) was elected as the Chair of the Executive Board (EB) of the World Health Organization.
“WHO is already providing leadership to the entire world in the sphere of public health, engaging with partners for joint actions, shaping the research agenda, and simulating the dissemination of valuable knowledge.(reference) The need is to catalyze further change,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan addressing the 147th WHO Executive Board session as its Chair. The main function of the Board includes implementing the decisions and policies of the health assembly and advising and facilitating its work.
2020- India Walks Out of UNGA Hall Over Pakistan PM’s Speech
When we talk about India giving fiery replies to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan over Kashmir, India seems to have no dearth of such incidents. Pakistan made false allegations against India at the 75th United Nations General Assembly when he again attempted to raise the issue of Kashmir. During the approximately 30 minute speech, the central element of the speech was directly targeted towards India and abrogation of Article 370 and also accused India of sponsoring Islamophobia. The Indian Delegate- Mihito Vinito walked out of the UNGA Hall at the beginning of the pre-recorded speech and later even exercised his “Right of Reply” in response to Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s statements.
“This hall heard the incessant rant of someone who had nothing to show for himself, who had no achievements to speak of and no reasonable suggest to offer to the world.(reference) Instead, we saw lies, misinformation, war-mongering, and malice spread through this Assembly. The words used today in this great Assembly by the leader of Pakistan demean the very essence of the United Nations.”
- Mihito Vinita (an excerpt from his ‘Right of Reply’ speech to the UNGA)
His act was applauded by many in India, and some believed that his walking out of the Assembly during Imran Khan’s speech was a befitting reply and sent a strong signal that Inda is done heeding to the lies that Pakistan invigorates.
Of course, the list cannot just end at only ten moments. India has contributed so immensely to this organization that selecting only ten would be an injustice. So here are a few more:
- On June 26, 1945, Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar was the first President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- India was elected the first chair of the Decolonization Committee working to put an end to Decolonization. (reference)
- In 1946, India was the first country to raise the issue of apartheid at the UN.(reference)
- In 2007, India became the first country to deploy an all-women contingent for Formed Police Unit to the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia.(reference)
- 2018, Since March 2018, Hindi has been introduced in UN public communications (UN News. weekly audio bulletins on UN Radio and UN social media).
- India was elected to the Human Rights Council in October 2018 for the period 2019-2022 with the highest number of votes. (188/193)(reference)
- In 2021, India was selected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 8th time.
India is a boiling pot of cultures and traditions. The people here are proudly patriotic and rightfully so. Centuries of slavery, plunder and rule over Indians by outside invaders have left our culture and pride fragmented. It is in moments like theses when we realize how amazing our nation is, and how much more it can be and hence we must do everything in our power to preserve the sanctity of this union of patriotism and diversity.
By Aashna Verma