Varsities should be place of debate, not violence: Prez

Varsities should be place of debate, not violence: Prez

Varsities should be place of debate, not violence: Prez

Advocating free thinking in university campuses, President Pranab Mukherjee today said students and faculties must engage in "reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagating a culture of unrest".

He also said it was tragic to see students caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet. His comments come in the backdrop of the ongoing tussle between RSS-affiliate ABVP and Left-backed AISA supporters in the Delhi University and a raging debate over free speech and nationalism following recent tweets of one of the varsity's students Gurmehar Kaur.

"It is tragic to see them (students) caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," Mukherjee said while delivering the sixth K S Rajamony Memorial Lecture here.

Underlining ancient glorious culture of universities in the country, he said, "Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society."

"These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking," he said.

Mukherjee also cautioned against the exploitation of "fault lines" in the society, intolerance and attack on women. He said there should be no room in the country for the "intolerant Indian" as this nation has been a bastion of free though, speech and expression since ancient times.

The society has always been characterised by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion, the President 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," he said.

The views of Kaur, daughter of an army officer killed in action against militants, evoked sharp reaction from Union minister Kiren Rijiju who went on to ask, "who is polluting her mind".
Kaur was allegedly threatened with rape on her Facebook page and was mocked by sportspersons and celebrities who questioned her pacifist approach.

"Protection and safety of our women and children must be a nationwide priority. The acid test of any society is its attitude towards women and children. India should not fail this test," he said.

In terse comments, Mukherjee said he does not consider a society or State to be civilised if its citizens' behaviour towards women is uncivilised. "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 said the country must be conscious of the fact that 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.

According to the President, the nation and the people must always come first. "Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root. Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India's pluralism and diversity. Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred," he said.

Mukherjee, who has been in public life for almost six decades, advised lawmakers and political activists to listen, engage, learn from people and respond to their needs and concerns.

Asking the lawmakers not to take the people for granted, he said 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.

"No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office. Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support. The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed," he said.

The President said our legislatures and Parliament must not turn into arenas for combat. "Floor tests are not meant to be muscle tests. The opportunity to represent the people is not a right or entitlement but a moral obligation and duty. Our elected representatives owe it to the people of our country to act as models of exemplary conduct," he said.

Mukherjee said if the Parliament and legislative assemblies become dysfunctional, it results in not just paralysis of those institutions but create and adverse impact across the system. "The debate and discussions which ought to take place in the open in the House of Parliament and assemblies cannot be replicated elsewhere. When they cease to function effectively, issues spill out onto the streets. The very basis of our democracy gets undermined," he said.

He red flagged interruptions in Parliament saying it has increased from 9.95 per cent in 10th Lok Sabha to a shocking 41.6 per cent in the 15th Lok Sabha and about 16 per cent in the 16th Lok Sabha (up to the 10th session).

Mukherjee said although production of wealth must necessarily be one of the predominant objectives of state policy, this must be imbued with the principle of equality on which there can be no compromise.

"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty," he said.