Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday his government will defend the rights of citizens of all faiths and asked the global community to dwell on culture and religion to overcome extremism, amid rising criticism that minorities in the country were feeling vulnerable.
"We will defend and protect the rights and liberty of every citizen. We will ensure that every citizen, of every faith, culture and creed has an equal place in our society; belief in our future; and the confidence to pursue it," he said, addressing the Unesco.
The PM also noted that the Constitution’s foundation rested on a fundamental principle of peace and prosperity of all.
Watch: Will defend rights of citizens of all faiths: Modi's speech at UNESCO
"The strength of the nation is determined by the joined hands of every citizen; and, real progress is measured through empowerment of the weakest.
His government has come under increasing attack from opposition and civil society groups, who say the PM is not doing enough to curb rising right-wing activities such as the controversial ghar wapsi (homecoming) conversion programmes by Hindu groups.
A string of attacks on churches and Catholic schools across the country prompted Modi – often criticised for his silence on sectarian violence -- to call for religious tolerance last month, asking police to protect minorities.
The NDA regime has also been buffeted by controversy because of politically-incorrect remarks by ministers and MPs. Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan embarrassed the government with her ramzada-haramzada remarks at an election rally while BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj kicked up a storm by calling Mahatma Gandhi's killer, Nathuram Godse, a patriot.
Noting that culture was a source of conflict in many parts of the world, Modi said it must connect and not divide and should be a bridge to greater respect and understanding between people.
"We must turn deep into our cultures, traditions, and religions to overcome the rising tide of extremism, violence and divisions across the world," said the Prime Minister.
Modi also called climate change a pressing global challenge and said his government has set a target of adding 175,000 MW of clean and renewable energy in the next seven years. His remarks come ahead of a crucial UN meet on climate change to be held here later this year.