Real dirt of India lies not in our streets but in our minds: Mukherjee

President-in-GujaratThe President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated a new Archives and Research Centre at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, Gujarat on Tuesday.

The President said we live in times when the world needs Gandhiji more than ever. The responsibility we shoulder to spread his word and message is more pressing now than ever before. Gandhiji was not just the Father of our Nation but also the maker of our Nation.

He gave us the moral vector to guide our actions, a measure by which we are judged. Gandhiji saw India as an inclusive nation where every section of our population lived in equality and enjoyed equal opportunity. He saw India as a country which would celebrate and constantly strengthen its vibrant diversity and commitment to pluralism. Gandhiji wanted our people to move forward unitedly in ever widening thought and action. And most of all, he did not want us to convert the celebration of his life and message into a mere ritual.

The President said Gandhiji taught us to be morally innovative. If India leads in moral innovation, all other forms of creativity which we have in abundance – would automatically fulfil the Talisman that Gandhiji gave us, namely, wiping every tear from each eye. The real essence of Gandhiji’s legacy and its continuing resonance lies in his injunction to us that all our actions must keep in mind the last person.

The last person in India is often a woman, a Dalit or an Adivasi. We must constantly ask ourselves, do our actions have meaning for them? The “Tryst with Destiny” that Pandit Nehru spoke of was this obligation. We must empower the poorest of the poor. Everyone must act as Trustees of collective welfare and wealth. The essence of being human is our trust of each other. The damage we see to the environment all around us- reminds us of the need for Trusteeship.

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The President said every day we see unprecedented violence all around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust. While we invent new modes of combating this ever spiralling violence, we must not forget the power of non-violence, dialogue and reason. We must free our public discourse of all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal. Only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of the people, especially the marginalised and the dispossessed in our democratic process.

The President said the real dirt of India lies not in our streets but in our minds and in our unwillingness to let go of views that divide society into “them” and “us”, “pure” and “impure”. We must make a success of the laudable and welcome Swatch Bharat Mission. However, this also must be seen as just the beginning of a much larger and intense effort to cleanse minds and fulfil Gandhiji’s vision in all its aspects.

Gandhiji would tell us – and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar would agree with him – that so long as untouchability persists, so long as dehumanising practice of carrying night soil persists, we cannot have real Swacch Bharat. Gandhiji insisted on the dignity of all human labour and expressed his desire to be a scavenger. We must remember that Gandhiji wished to be a scavenger of our hearts as much as of our villages.

The President said only those who are confident of their conviction, secure in their faith and rooted in their culture can hope to live in an open house, an open society. If we close ourselves in, seek to be immune from other influences, it shows that we are prepared to live in a house that is devoid of fresh breeze. Hriday Kunj’s lesson to us in contemporary India is that we must build an open society ever ready to engage with diverse ideas and thoughts on equal terms.

The President said Gandhiji was an advocate of knowledge without barriers. Gandhiji’s life should be understood as a whole, not piecemeal, and certainly not fragmented. The capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilisation. Gandhiji used a very special word for civilisation, SUDHAR, which he said is not just the good path or the right path but also that which holds human civilisation together. Let us pledge to join hands and build an India that truly exemplifies this SUDHAR.

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