President Pranab Mukherjee
on Thursday said those in universities
must engage in reasoned discussions and debates rather than propagate a culture of unrest, and said there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.
“These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking,” he said, delivering a lecture in Kochi, Kerala.
Mukherjee said India’s democracy “requires constant nurturing”. “At no cost should we allow the exploitation of the fault lines. Those who spread violence must remember that Buddha, Ashoka and Akbar are remembered as heroes in history; not Hitler or Genghis Khan,” he said.
The President didn’t mention recent incidents in Delhi University, or those of last year’s in Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. But he bemoaned the current state of affairs in universities.
“It is tragic to see them (universities) caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet,” he said. The President’s remarks come days after Sangh Parivar-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists reportedly beat students in Ramjas College
for hosting a seminar on Bastar, a district in Chhattisgarh. In the aftermath of the attack, Gurmehar Kaur, a 21-year-old Delhi University
student and daughter of an army officer who was killed in action against militants, had tweeted her support for the freedom of speech of her fellow students. Kaur was threatened with rape on her Facebook page.
Sportspersons and film personalities mocked her. Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, went on to ask, "who is polluting her mind".
In his speech, the President spoke up for the protection and safety of women and children. He said this should be a nationwide priority, the acid test of a civilised nation. "When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation. Not only does our Constitution guarantee equal rights to women but our culture and tradition also celebrate the feminine as divine," he said.
Mukherjee, whose current presidential term ends in July this year, said country’s premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society. The President said there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian. “India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. Our society has always been characterised by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion,” he said.
Mukherjee said: “Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent.”
The President advised India’s leaders and political activists that they must listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns.
“Our law makers must never take the people for granted. They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems,” the President said. Mukherjee said “the trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed.”
The President said the time has come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national
purpose and patriotism that alone can lift our nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity. The nation and the people must always come first. He said it was most unfortunate that time devoted towards legislation has been gradually declining in our Parliament.
The President ended with a hopeful note. He said he was confident that in the next ten years, we will see even greater progress as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society.
In a related development, the President’s House on Thursday announced that the Jawaharlal Nehru University has won the annual Visitor’s Award for the ‘Best University’, 2017.
Dr Deepak Pant from Central University of Himachal Pradesh won the Visitor’s Award for ‘Innovation’ while the Visitor’s Award for ‘Research’ has been jointly won by Dr. Shyam Sunder from Banaras Hindu University and Prof Niranjan Karak from Tezpur University.
The President will present the Visitor’s Awards for the year 2017 at a function to be held at Rashtrapati Bhavan on March 6.