Former President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday expressed concern about the increasing violence and disregard for human life in India, News18 reported. He also added that India was not made of one religion or language and diversity was its soul.

“Today, I notice, with great concern, there is an increase in violence arising out of differences,” Mukherjee said during a lecture to the North East Institute of Advanced Studies via video conference from New Delhi. “Consequently, our ability to co-exist in harmony has greatly suffered.” The lecture topic was “Tolerance in Indian society”.

“This type of violence not only perpetuates physical harm but mental, intellectual and socio-economic destruction as well,” the Congress leader said. “There is an utter disregard for the life of fellow humans; there is mistrust and hatred; there is suspicion and jealousy. Every time an individual, a child or woman is brutalised, the soul of India is wounded. Manifestations of rage are tearing our social fabric. Every day we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear, and mistrust.”

India was not made of one language or one religion or one enemy, Mukherjee added. “It is the ‘Perennial Universalism’ of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects in their everyday lives, practice seven major religions, belong to three major ethnic groups – Caucasians, Mongoloids, and Dravidians – live under one system, one flag and one identity of being ‘Indian’ or ‘bhartiya’ and have ‘no enemies’,” the former president said. “That is what makes Bharat a diverse and united nation.”

Mukherjee also said that pluralism and diversity were the centre of India’s soul. “This plurality of our society has come through assimilation of ideas over centuries,” he added. “Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture which makes us into one nation.”

Tolerance, Mukherjee said, was a state of mind and a manifestation of Indians’ belief in ahimsa or nonviolence. “Ahimsa has been the core of Indian ethos and Mahatma Gandhi has been its most vocal apostle in the modern times,” the former president said, adding that it was more important now than ever to remind ourselves of the “unfettering faith” that Mahatma Gandhi had in ahimsa, tolerance and mutual respect. “Circumstances today have forced us to ask ourselves if we have lived up to the aspirations of the Father of our Nation,” he said.

Public discourse must be freed from violence, Mukherjee said, adding that only nonviolent societies can ensue that all sections of its people, especially those who are marginalised, can participate in all the democratic processes. “We must move from anger, violence, and conflict to peace, harmony, and happiness,” he said.

“Divergent strands in public discourse have to be recognised,” he added. “We may argue, we may agree, or we may not agree. But we cannot deny the essential prevalence of multiplicity of opinion. Only through a dialogue can we develop the understanding to solve complex problems without an unhealthy strife within our polity.”

The lecture came at a time when mob lynchings and hate crimes are on the rise in India. Mob violence in India has been sparked off by communal hate – especially cow protection – as well as social-media fuelled rumours dealing with alleged crimes such as child abductions.

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