Wednesday, January 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

President justifies quota for Dalits
Warns against mass discontent

NEW DELHI, Jan 25 (UNI) — President K.R. Narayanan today decried the social, economic and political injustice being meted out to millions of citizens and justified reservation for women, Dalits and other weaker sections so that the edifice of our democracy would not be like a palace built on a dung heap.

In his address to the nation on the eve of the golden jubilee of Republic Day, the President said in the social realm, some kind of counter-revolution was taking place in the country. “Provisions of reservation remained unfulfilled through bureaucratic and administrative deformation or by narrow interpretations of these special provisions,’’ he said.

Stating that there were signs that the privileged classes were getting tired of affirmative action provided for the Constitution, the President said: “Let us not get tired of what we have provided for our weaker sections’’.

Mr Narayanan regretted that the country’s economic growth had not been uniform and it was accompanied by greater regional and social inequalities. “Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest tier of the society, whose discontent moves towards the path of violence. Dalits and tribesmen are the worst affected”, he added.

The President said: “Fifty years into India’s life as a republic, we find that justice — social, economic and political — remained an unrealised dream for millions of our fellow citizens. The benefits of economic growth are yet to reach them’’.

“We have one of the world’s largest reservoirs of technical personnel but also the world’s largest number of illiterate the world’s largest middle class, but also the largest number of people below the poverty line and the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition.

“Our giant factories rise from out of squalor. Our satellites shoot up from the midst of hovels of the poor. Not surprisingly, there is sullen resentment among the masses against their condition erupting often in violent forms in several parts of the country,’’ the President noted.

He said the three-way fast lane of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation must provide a safe pedestrian crossing for the unempowered India so that it, too, can move towards equality of status and opportunity. “Beware of the fury of the patient man says the old adage. One could say beware of the fury of the patient and long-suffering people,’’ he said.

Mr Narayanan said “violence in society had bared a hundred fangs’’ as the advertisement-driven consumerism was unleashing frustrations and tensions in the society.

“One half of our society guzzles aerated beverages, while the other has to make do with palmfuls of muddied water,’’ he said.

Justifying the trajectories of modern progress like factories, dams and satellites, the President cautioned that these should not cause ecological and environmental devastation and uproot human settlements, especially of tribesmen and the poor.

“Ways and methods could be found for countering the harmful impact of modern technology on the lives of the common people. While the government must be held responsible for environmental and human consequences of mega projects, the responsibility of environmental protection must be borne by civil society as well”, Mr Narayanan said.

“In times of crisis like the Kargil conflict, the Orissa cyclone and the Indian Airlines plane hijacking, the country rose gloriously to meet the challenge successfully. Such qualities of endurance, calm and fortitude should be manifest in the daily life of the people and not be reserved only for national or natural calamities, he said.

Describing the status of Indian women as the greatest national shame, the President said it was against this attitude and habit of discrimination prevalent in society that the demand for constitutional reservation in legislatures and Parliament had become a compelling necessity.

“Fifty years after our Constitution, the plain truth is that the female half of the Indian population continues to be regarded as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries,’’ the President stated. The infamous practice of ‘‘sati’’ still managed to raise its head and worse still, even got explained away as suicide or a saintly sacrifice.

Untouchability had been abolished by law but shades of it remained in the ingrained attitudes nurtured by the caste system. The absence of political rhetoric on these social ills was “disconcerting’’, he added.

Mr Narayanan endorsed reservation to Dalits and tribesmen and said these benefits “have been provided not in the way of charity, but as human rights and as social justice to a section of society who constitute a big chunk of our population and who actually contribute to agriculture, industry and services as landless labourers, factory and municipal workers.’’

“The way public servants treat the public, or the public handles public utilities, the manner in which we squander or pollute precious reserves like water, the way owners of vehicles allow toxic gases to be spewed into the air that we breathe, the way we allow children to be exploited, the disabled to be passed by, speaks of a stony-hearted society, not a compassionate one that produced the Buddha, the Mahavira, Nanak, Kabir and Gandhi,’’ the President said.

Paying homage to the defence forces, Mr Narayanan said they laid down their lives in the defence of the republic from external aggression and intermittent terrorist attacks from across the border. “I send my greetings to the brave personnel of our armed forces who stand guard to defend the unity and territorial integrity of the nation,’’ he said.

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