Kochi: Days after a Delhi University student came under vicious attack on social media, President Pranab Mukheree on Thursday said India could afford the "intolerant".There should be "no room in India for the intolerant Indian", he said here while delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture.
"India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression.
"Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion.
"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 said.
Mukherjee voiced his pain over the incidents involving Delhi University.Students, he said, should engage in discussion rather get into a conflict mode.
"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."Those in universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet."
Mukherjee' remarks came after the RSS-backed ABVP forced the cancellation of a seminar in Delhi University's Ramjas College on February 21.
The next day, ABVP activists were blamed for attacking students and teachers in the campus.
Later, when university student Gurmehar Kaur launched a social media campaign against the ABVP, she got death and rape threats, forcing her to leave Delhi for her home in Punjab.
The President said he does not consider a society or State to be civilised if its citizens' behaviour towards women is uncivilized.
"When we brutalize a woman, we wound the soul of our civilization. Not only does our Constitution guarantee equal rights to women but our culture and tradition also celebrate the feminine as divine.
"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, he said. "India should not fail this test."
Mukherjee urged leaders and political activists to listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns.
"Our lawmakers 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.
"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," Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee said the time had come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift India on the road of sustained progress and prosperity.
"The nation and the people must always come first."
Stating he sees a very bright future for India, Mukherjee said to applause: "Our Constitutional values, young population and entrepreneurial abilities as well as capacity for hard work provide us the fundamentals required for rapid progress as well as the building of a caring and compassionate society."
In the decade, India would see even greater progress "as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society", he said.