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The Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Chief Guest at the Convocation Ceremony at Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan today. Following is the text of the Convocation Address:

`It is a great privilege for me to be called upon to deliver the convocation address in the hallowed hall of this great university. As I return to Shantiniketan after many years, I once again experience what Gurudev said about this place:

Gram Chhara Oye

Ranga Matir Path

Amaar Man Bhulai Re (This road of red soil makes me forget all my cares.)

Rabindranath Tagore described Shantiniketan as his `tangible poem`, as the boat that carried the best cargo of his life.

If Tagore`s life of 81 years can be compared to a tree, it will be found that his limitless creativity blossomed on three main branches - one, his poetic, literary, musical and intellectual creations; two, his contributions to India`s Freedom Movement and to the promotion of international peace and understanding; and, three, his experiments in education through Shantiniketan. In his
later years, he attached the highest importance to this third branch of his work.

I have been to many universities in India, and some foreign ones too. Each one of them has been worthy of admiration for some distinctive reason or the other. Yet, there is something unique and uplifting about coming to Vishwa Bharati.

This is because Vishwa Bharati and Shantiniketan were the karmabhoomi of one of the greatest rishis of modern times. In Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the best of India, all that is eternal and universal in India, all that is ancient and yet ever-modernizing about India, manifested themselves in oceanic creativity.

Equally important, Tagore`s creative genius unfolded itself at one of the proudest periods in India`s history. And a great part of this pride was due to what Tagore himself did to liberate the spirit of an enslaved nation. His genius demonstrated to our rulers, and to humanity at large that, though India was unfree, her creative tradition and philosophy were capable of commanding the respect of the whole world.

The world respected India because the best of our poets and thinkers, social reformers and political leaders, spoke not only for India, but for all suffering people. They spoke even for the redemption of those who caused the suffering. Their world-view was free of prejudice. It proclaimed the essential unity of mankind. It was also ever prepared to accept all that is positive from other cultures, while preserving its own distinctive identity.

Nowhere is this better seen than in this institution that Tagore founded. The very name Vishwa Bharati, announces the lofty vision of the sage-poet, which personified the harmony between nationalism and internationalism. Tagore believed that education - Integral Education, Total Education, Education of the Whole Man - was alone the instrument that could nourish this harmony and carry it from generation to generation.

Today, we stand at the beginning of the third millennium. We have entered an era of globalization. Far many more things connect the countries and communities of the world today than was the case during Tagore`s time. Yet, despite all the wonders of technology and trade, the world has not been able to achieve this harmony between sectional interests and universal good.

In extreme cases, misconceived advocacy of sectional interests has even resulted in hatred and violence of the most horrendous kind. It has even been made into a matter of state policy by some regimes. This is what the world has been witnessing in recent times in the form of terrorism. What is worse, acts of terrorism are sought to be justified in the name of religion, although no religion sanctions hatred and violence.

We saw it on September 11 and we have seen it again on December 13.

The phenomenon of terrorism has many dimensions, just as the strategy to counter it also will have to be implemented across many fronts. However, the one aspect that I would like to touch upon, which is relevant to today`s occasion, is the contribution of education - or rather, the lack of true education.

Before the terrorists` hands are trained to kill, their minds are trained to hate. It is shocking that its promoters in our neighborhood have turned even some schools meant for religious education into factories of terror.

How completely opposed all this is to Tagore`s noble vision of education! Tagore affirmed the innate relationship between Shiksha and Shanti. Which is why, he located Vishwa Bharati in Shantiniketan.

We cannot expect terrorists and their sponsors to understand this fine relationship between education and peace. For they are beyond the pale of humanity. They have to be dealt with in other appropriate ways.

Those behind the dastardly attack on our Parliament day before yesterday should know that India`s democracy, and India`s people, cannot be cowed down by their terror.

Chitta Jetha Bhay Sunya

Uchcha Jetha Sir

(Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high)

We have learnt this inspiring lesson from Rabindranath Tagore.

Such people, however, constitute a small minority. Those regimes that seek to promote their untenable political goals by sponsoring terror are doomed in the face of the collective will of the international community.

What is obvious, however, is that our struggle against terrorism, extremism, and all such threats to a civilized world order will be vastly strengthened if all countries adopt Tagore`s vision of education.

What strikes me most about this vision is its breadth of outlook. The Vishwa Bharati Act mentions, right at the outset, that one of the objects of this university would be `to study the mind of man in its realization of different aspects of truth from diverse points of view`. I would like to emphasize here both the diverse and the unified character of Truth. This is entirely in line with

what our ancient seers said: `Ekam Sat Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti`. (Truth is One. The wise interpret it in different ways.)

In today`s age of globalization, education everywhere and at all levels must stress this universal theme. This is the surest way of promoting amity, goodwill, fellowship, and cooperation, both within and among nations.

It is gratifying to note that Vishwa Bharati`s ideal of education is now being reflected in many enlightened quarters of the world. For example, Jacques Delor, the former president of the European Commission, in his report on Education in the 21st century, titled: Learning: The Treasure Within has talked of the four pillars of learning -Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Be, and, finally, Learning to Live Together.

So far, our educational system is focused more on the first aspect, namely acquisition of knowledge. Even here, what is emphasized is accumulation of information. There is a little bit of focus on the second aspect, namely, acquisition of skills. However, there is hardly any attention paid to the third and the fourth aspects - namely, the Art of Being as against the Ways of Having; the Art of Living Together as against the Ways of Exclusivism.

The neglect of these vital needs of individual and social development in our education system has made many of our citizens one-dimensional personalities. Life is not merely about wanting to have more and more material goods and comforts, although a reasonable level of well-being is the basic need of every citizen. I am often troubled by the excessive materialism that is growing in our society and the tendency to see education just as a passport to, what is mistakenly called, a `good life`.

This brings me to my next point. Education has to do with learning, innovation, inquiry, and exploration. It also has to do with the joy of discovery, which is not linked to any specific purpose as such. Rather, it is often an exciting voyage of the mind into the mysteries of the cosmos.

To Tagore, education was freedom, it was an exultation. It is what our ancient rishis described as `Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye`. (That is true education, which sets the mind free.) The same refrain is there in the educational thoughts of the other great son, and also the other Nobel laureate of Shantiniketan, Professor Amartya Sen.

A holistic approach leading to the joy of learning is what we need to restore to our educational system. Unfortunately, we are far from this ideal in many of our schools. I bemoan this situation with the same pain that Gurudev expressed in the following passage:

Children`s minds are sensitive to the influences of the world. Their sub-conscious minds are always active, always imbibing some lesson, and realizing the joy of knowing. Yet, in this critical formative period, the child`s life is subjected to the education factory, lifeless, colorless, dissociated from the context of the universe, within bare white walls, staring like eyeballs of the dead. Children are born with that God-given gift of taking delight in the world, but such delightful activity is fettered and imprisoned, muted by a force called discipline. They are made to sit inert, like dead specimens of some museum, while lessons are pelted at them from on high, like hailstones on flowers.

I agree that shortage of facilities, especially in Government schools, is certainly a constraint to better quality education. Nevertheless, I believe that a lot of improvement can be achieved in spite of these constraints. What is needed is the right approach among teachers, parents, and school administrators.

One of the greatest challenges before us is to ensure that even children from poor families can receive good education of the kind that Tagore envisaged. This cannot be the responsibility of the government alone. I appeal to educational trusts, voluntary organizations, teachers` associations, business houses and philanthropic institutions to step up their contribution to this important national mission.

I would make the same appeal in the case of college and university education too.

Lastly, I have a few words for my young friends who are about to graduate out of this great university. Remember that, as you step into the world of work and duty, you will be judged in your professional and personal lives, perhaps by standards higher than those applied to other graduates. This is also true for the teachers and authorities of Vishwa Bharati.

This is because you have been fortunate to study in an institution that bears the illustrious stamp of Gurudev. Try to achieve excellence in whatever you do. And do it with devotion and an active purpose to bring about betterment in the lives around you. In so doing, you will certainly bring betterment in your own lives.

And remember always to hold your heads high with a mind without fear and a heart filled with patriotism and love for humanity.

Thank you.`


Source©SPEECH 2000

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