President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday reminded the people that freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution and urged all to make space for “legitimate criticism and dissent”. Delivering the 6th KS Rajamony Memorial Lecture in Kochi, Kerala, Mukherjee said, “There should be no room in India for intolerant Indians.”
Mukherjee’s comments gain significance in the backdrop of the recent Ramjas College fracas and the incidents that followed. Gurmehar Kaur, the 20-year-old daughter of Indian soldier killed during Kargil war, was mocked and threatened after her online campaign against the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s violence at Ramjas College in Delhi went viral. The Lady Shri Ram College student was mocked by cricketer Virender Sehwag and patronised by Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda after a picture of her holding a placard with the writings “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him” went viral.
The president, in a veiled manner, took a dig at all those politicians who criticised Kaur for speaking her mind. “Leaders/political activists must listen to people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns,” he said. “They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people.”
He then went on the add that a society is not civilised if the behaviour of its citizens towards women is uncivilised. “When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation,” said Mukherjee. Kaur was threatened with rape, following which she announced her decision to drop out of the #StudentsagainstABVP campaign. Her mother had said that the girl had left Delhi.
Here is the full text of his speech.