My Fellow Citizens,
On the eve of the 52nd anniversary of our Republic I have great pleasure to extend my greetings and good wishes to the men, women and children of India. I send my special greetings to those who work on the farms and in the factories producing the wealth of the nation, and in the schools, colleges and universities training the youth of the country, and in the scientific laboratories and technological institutions building up the fundamental brainwork of the nation. Especially I greet the valiant members of our armed forces and para military organizations who stand vigil at the remote and inhospitable borders of our vast land ever ready to make the supreme sacrifice for defending the independence, unity and integrity of the motherland. Let us on this occasion remember and pay our homage to those security men of our Parliament, who by their vigilance, courage and timely action at the cost of their lives averted the terrorist attack to destroy our Parliament, the temple of Indian democracy and the symbol of our sovereignty. It is perhaps not a coincidence the assault on our Parliament took place on December 13th which is the anniversary of the day in 1946 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru moved in the Constituent Assembly the Objectives Resolution declaring the resolve of India to become an independent sovereign Republic and outlining the democratic, secular and social fundamentals of the Constitution we were proposing to give to ourselves. And it is significant that it is the extra-ordinary courage and heroism of the ordinary security personnel at the Parliament House that saved the seat of our democracy against the dastardly terrorist attack. While we rejoice in the success of our security personnel, let us remember that our safety and security is dependent on our common people like them, and it is for their interests and welfare that we should work from our imposing Parliament and Government buildings.
My fellow citizens, it has been acknowledged that the greatest achievement of India since Independence has been the building up of democracy and a stable system of Government for this vast country. But what has not been fully realized by the world and even by ourselves is the magnitude of this achievement in a population of one billion people, belonging to almost all the religions of the world and with diversities of every kind that is imaginable. It was not by force and compulsion, by blood and iron, that this achievement has been brought about, but by peaceful means, by tolerance and willing acceptance of differences and diversities. It is the product of the ancient philosophy and culture of India which taught us that humanity is one and the whole world is a single nest. But we know that this old philosophy had been battered by the vicissitudes of history and that for long periods our country had fallen into the depths of thraldom, indignity, ignorance and superstition. The renaissance of India in the modern period through non-violent struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was an event of historic importance. To-day it is proper for us to remember with gratitude not only those great minds who fashioned our ancient thought and civilization, but also those in the modern period who revived those traditions and made them the stuff of our modern progress. While we draw inspiration from both, we have to draw lessons for the present and the future, from those who had analysed the causes of our decline and degradation.
Swami Vivekananda had declared that the chief cause of India's ruin has been the monopolising of the whole education and intelligence of the land among a handful of men. He added that "We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses. The Hindus, the Mohommedans, the Christians, all have trampled them under foot". My fellow citizens, in spite of many shortcomings and failures, we have achieved much in the education and the improvement of the condition of the masses since Independence. The life expectancy of our people has doubled from 27 years at the time of Independence to 62 years now. Literacy rose from 15% in 1947 to 65% in 2001. We see to-day a real decline in illiteracy in absolute numbers, and the gap between male and female literacy has been reduced. But still India has the largest number of illiterates in any country in the world. Therefore we welcome the Bill now before Parliament for the provision of education for all children between the age of 6 to 14 as a great step forward. This is still a partial measure. There is the need for extending the facility of free and compulsory education to the entire age group upto 18 years so that illiteracy is banished from the land. Let us commit ourselves to-day as a nation to find ways and means to realize this cherished dream. All the Governments of the world including India pledged last year at Dakar to prepare a National Plan together with civic organisations by 2002 which would ensure education for all by the year 2015. This is not impossible if only we work whole-heartedly to reach this end.
Growth and proper nourishment of children remain at the root of human resources development and the progress of the society and the nation. With the largest number of children in the world India has a large reservoir of human wealth. The future of India will depend on the development of this human wealth. It indeed depends on the health and welfare of our children. It is encouraging that we have made some success in the welfare and development of children. India has the largest Integrated Child Development programme in the world for extending nutrition, health and educational facilities to the children of our country .We have adopted the Pulse Polio Programme that now covers the entire country. Mass immunization programme has achieved remarkable results. If all these programmes together with children's education are implemented we can look forward to a bright future for our children and our country. A poet has said the cry of a child by the roadside mars the harmony of the universe.
My fellow citizens, one of the clearest indicators of the development of a society is the position and status women enjoy in that society. Even though women's rights are recognized as human rights and they are considered as best of human resources and central actors for development, their standing in our society is deplorable. You all know how Mahatma Gandhi had mobilized ordinary women in large numbers for the cause of our country's independence. 70,000 of them participated in the Salt Satyagraha. He included women's upliftment in his Constructive Programme as an important point not only for their elevation but also for positive social change and attainment of independence. We have observed the year 2001 as the year of women's empowerment. Several important measures have been taken to elevate women from their present status. It is uplifting to see the ordinary and poor women actively participating in movements and campaigns, for constructive action such as the right to information, river revival programmes and rain water harvesting and watershed management schemes. Election of almost one million women to Panchayat Raj institutions and their activities in such bodies have brought about a strategic shift in many of our developmental activities at the grass roots level. While women's movement is gaining momentum and gathering pace and reaching one milestone after another, the ill treatment and atrocities on women are recurring in regular and brutal manner. No day passes without reading and watching such gory incidents in print and electronic media.
Dowry system is not only responsible for snuffing out lives of our women at a very young age but is also primarily responsible for the growing incidence of female foeticide in the country .Incidences of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work places and trafficking of women have increased many folds. Half the number of women killed in India are killed in their bedrooms. Rise in cases of sexual harassment by 40%, dowry deaths by 15.2% and smuggling of girls by 87.2% in 1998 are indicative of their traumatised existence. No place is safe for them, not even their mother's wombs. They are put to death even before they are born. The experience of Draupadi in the court of the Kauravas has become symbolic of the ill treatment of women in our country .If I may quote from one of the poems of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
"In every panchayat Draupadi is robbed of her honour"
She is to-day not only dishonoured in Panchayats but also in the city transport buses, in the city streets and even in her own homes. It is high time that we got rid of this inequality and indignity to women in our country . The success of women movements at the grass-root level in India shows that it is possible for us to do so.
The problem of women in India is symbolic of the problem of inequalities and injustices in our society in general. Even to-day it is amazing that we have not become an inclusive society in spite of the political triumph of our democracy. The discrimination being suffered by women, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is a crying denial of the democracy that is enshrined in our Constitution. Recently a conference was held in Bhopal of Dalit and tribal intellectuals and activists. They issued a Declaration called the Bhopal Declaration charting out a new course for Dalits and the tribal people for the 21st century. After calling for the implementation of the policies enshrined in our Constitution for their development, the Declaration emphasizes the importance, in this present era of privatization, of providing for representation for these deprived classes, not only in Government and public institutions but in private corporations and enterprizes which benefit from Government funds and facilities. Indeed in the present economic system and of the future, it is necessary for the private sector to adopt social policies that are progressive and more egalitarian for these deprived classes to be uplifted from their state of deprivation and inequality and given the rights of citizens and civilized human beings. This is not to ask the private enterprise accept Socialism, but to do something like what the Diversity Bill and the affirmative action that a capitalist country like the United States of America has adopted and is implementing.
My fellow citizens, I have talked to you about these social questions because if our great democracy is to remain great and relevant to the problems of the masses, we will have to pay heed to these crying socio- economic issues. With such attention to the problems affecting the masses of our people, our country will be strong and powerful to pursue the policy of peace and co-existence that we have followed in the world, especially with regard to our neighbours in the sub-continent and in Asia. And that will be our democratic answer to the evil phenomenon of terrorism that we in India and the world in general are facing to-day. Alongside we will have to build up the economic strength and the defensive capacity of our country to its fullest potential. Once again I wish you all a happy Republic Day.