Kochi, Mar 2: President Pranab Mukherjee commented on the ongoing controversy which emanated from Ramjas College, calling it an unfortunate and discouraging sign for a democracy. Pranab warned the nation to defend itself against forces which want to curb the environment of free speech and expression. He also urged upon the lawmakers to safeguard freedom of speech, calling it “one of the most fundamental right guaranteed by our constitution.”

“Our premier institutions of higher education are 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,” President said, while delivering the KS Rajamony memorial lecture.

Condemning the violence between leftist AISA and RSS-backed ABVP students, President remarked, “It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.”

In a veiled manner, President also criticised the trolling of Gurmehar Kaur, the 20-year-old daughter of Kargil martyr, who has emerged as the face of the AISA-backed students’ agitation. “I do not consider a society or State to be civilised if its citizens’ behaviour towards women is uncivilised. When we brutalize a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation. The acid test of any society is its attitude towards women and children,” he said.

Before concluding his speech, President also gave interesting insights on nationalism. “The time has come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism. Sense of national purpose and patriotism alone can lift our nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity. The nation and the people must always come first.”