Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam's address at 6th World Congress

Address by the Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, President of India, at the Sixth World Congress of Jesuit Alumni Kolkata, 21st January 2003 .

I have great pleasure in participating in the Inaugural Function of the Sixth World Congress of Jesuit Alumni today. I note that this four-day Congress is being organised under the auspices of the Federation of Jesuit Alumni Associations of India and under the executive responsibility of three Jesuit Alumni Associations. I have noted with particular interest that the theme of the Congress is "where the mind is without fear and the head held high". These words of poet Rabindranath Tagore have assumed great relevance in the present day world.

Being a Jesuit alumnus, I am aware of the great contribution made by the Jesuits in the field of education not only in India but all over the world. I consider any organisation promoting education in the true sense as doing something holy, something sacrosanct in the best interests of society and a growing civilization. If education in its real sense can be imparted to the younger generation, there is nothing better than that as an investment for an assured future. Education frees an individual of his shackles and opens up his mind and projects a vision to enable him to progress on the path of sustained development both materially and spiritually. Any society that is determined to make progress in the real sense, should, therefore, focus special attention on the need for evolving an appropriate educational system and also the proper agencies - government or otherwise - that would deliver.

"Where the mind is without fear and the head held high" means and signifies a lot. It aims at self-confidence, determination, fearlessness, courage and self-esteem. Needless to say any self-respecting individual has to have all these. I have always wondered whether in the system that prevails in many countries at present whether this noble objective is realistic at all.

It is a race, mad race for power all over. Power at any cost. Human values are thrown to the winds and material gains become the sole objective. Subjugation of fellow human beings and those who are weak and helpless, is being pursued with relentless vigour in total self-oriented, selfish pursuits. There is no respect for others' feelings or sentiments; it is utter disregard to the very existence of those and systems one does not like. It is this philosophy that prevails everywhere now - nationally and the world over. Against such a background, to have a mind without fear and to be able to hold one's head high becomes difficult if not impossible. I would term it a tragedy of human civilization..

The tragedy of human civilization has another dimension. And that is envisioning development as a purely economic phenomenon. Recognising development purely in economic terms is to strait-jacket the concept too narrowly. Any concept of development that omits from its ambit spiritual dimension and cherished value systems would make it grossly incomplete and unrealistic. This is because no development can be an enduring phenomenon unless it takes into account the development of the self in every human being in all its sublime manifestations. If that does not happen, corruption of values would result and that would cut at the root of all development. Real education would facilitate attitudinal changes, nurturing eternal human values, thus adopting a holistic perspective towards development in which spirituality and economic planks get combined into a wholesome whole.

For humanity to progress, we have to have a vision. That vision should be fostered by education. A fearless mind and self-esteem, in my view, would be part of such a vision. And that vision is not only for an individual but even for the nation, the world. If such a vision is clear, then automatically the individual's behaviour, his pursuit of knowledge, his attitudes, his deeds and the nation's policies would all undergo a cosmic, constructive change for the better. Such change would qualitatively alter the individual and the national psyche and that would set the tone and tenor for the pursuit of that vision. Meaningful education would aim at that. Education is not information gathering. Nor is it, may I say, even knowledge gathering. It is much more than that. Education, in my view, is the ultimate realisation of eternal human values fortified by increasing knowledge of the Universe's systems leading to self-realisation. This is exactly what all religions, in their true spirit, seek to profess and achieve. It is when such a goal is achieved that religion rises to the level of spirituality. Let us not bother about the formal aberrations of any religion. Such aberrations are the creations of sections of society, self-centered individuals or groups. In reality, that should not matter. What we need is single-minded devotion and application to achieve the ultimate vision. Good education, as I mentioned earlier, will open up vistas to achieve that.

I am happy that the Jesuit Alumni are organising global conferences with such a vision in view. Jesuit Alumni Associations can and should spread the message of value-based education and strive towards creating a value-based environment in which all are enabled to critically look at themselves with the objective of developing the self to its full potential. That alone will make it possible to have a mind without fear; that alone would make it possible to hold one's head high. I am sure the noble intention of adopting such a lofty theme for the conference will get reinforced in the course of the conference. If this Conference, at its conclusion, is able to send a message of nobility of mind and an elevated life, an exalted thinking and the need for fearless self-esteem with consideration and kindness to others, I would think that this Conference has not been held in vain and I would have the satisfaction that I was also part of sending and spreading such a message for the well being of the entire world.

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