Gangrape left our hearts empty, says President

Expressing his deep anguish over the gangrape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student in the capital last month, President Pranab Mukherjee Friday used his maiden address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day to underline the need to reaffirm the country's commitment to gender equality.

Mukherjee also laid stress on the obligation to arrest falling standards in politics and governance, and said elected representatives must gain the confidence of the people. Besides, he subtly warned Pakistan not to take India's hand of friendship for granted.

Virtually justifying the anger in the country over the Delhi gangrape, Mukherjee said the gruesome crime had "left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil". "If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?" he asked, adding that the incident was an assault on womanhood. "The sanctity of a woman is a directive principle of the larger edifice called Indian civilisation...When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation," he said, and added that the time had come to ensure gender equality for every Indian woman.

Referring to the killing of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control this month, Mukherjee maintained that sponsorship of terrorism through non-state actors is a matter of concern. "We believe in peace on the border and are always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship. But this hand should not be taken for granted," he said.

Making a compelling case for the country to immediately engage in course correction, the president reflected on the imperative to place high premium on moral values. "It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass. Nothing should be allowed to spur cynicism, as cynicism is blind to morality. We must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered," he said.

Mukherjee also underlined the need to recognise the importance of youth but added that it was necessary to channelise their restlessness towards the betterment of the nation.

"We are on the cusp of another generational change; the youth of India spread across villages and towns, are in the vanguard of change. The future belongs to them. They are today troubled by existential doubts. Does the system offer due reward for merit? Have the powerful lost their dharma in pursuit of greed? Has corruption overtaken morality in public life? Does our legislature reflect emerging India or does it need radical reforms? These doubts have to be set to rest," he said

Mukherjee, however, maintained that there was no cause for despair, saying that the country had come a long way since Independence and "India had changed more in the last six decades than in six previous centuries". Marking the milestones, he said economic growth had more than tripled in six decades, the literacy rate had increased over four times and the country was now a net exporter of food grains.

However, he cautioned that in the pursuit for economic growth through reforms, the underprivileged should not be forgotten. "We must ensure that the fruits of economic growth do not become the monopoly of the privileged at the peak of a pyramid. The primary purpose of wealth creation must be to drive out the evil of hunger, deprivation and marginal subsistence from the base of our expanding population," he said.

He warned that problems such as Naxalism could acquire more dangerous dimensions if the divide between the rich and poor continued to grow.

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