"Hon'ble Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh Ji, Chairperson, UPA Madam Sonia Gandhi Ji, Shri Deve Gowda Ji, my colleagues, Shri Anthony Ji, Shri Sharad Pawar Ji, Shri Chidambaram Ji, Dr. Farooq Abdullah Ji, Shri Rahman Khan Ji and other Union Cabinet Ministers, Smt Sushma Swaraj Ji, Shri Arun Jaitley Ji, Chief Ministers of States, Ministers of State of Union Government, Members of NIC and distinguished invitees.
I welcome you all to the 16th Meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC).
The 15th Meeting of the NIC was held on 10th September 2011. It is now more than two years since we last met. The NIC provides us with a unique platform to share ideas that would uphold the values of a pluralistic and inclusive society. This forum is an outcome of the National Integration Conference held in 1961. In that conference it was decided to set up a National Integration Council to review and make recommendations on all matters pertaining to national integration. The first meeting of the National Integration Council was held in June 1962 by the first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. The country has progressed remarkably since then but issues relating to national integration continue to remain important.
In the agenda before us today we propose to discuss three important areas of concern where divisive forces threaten the integrity of our democratic polity.
The first relates to the safety and security of women. As you all know, women not only constitute fifty percent of our population and have an equal role to play in the development of this country, but they also remain the main foundation of an egalitarian and dignified society. No country can progress unless they treat their women with respect. Unfortunately, we continue to read about heinous crimes committed on our women. The statistics on crimes against women reveal an increasing trend in the last three years. The brutal rape and attack on a young girl in Delhi last year shocked the conscience of the nation. The Government of India took a major initiative to amend the criminal law to make the punishment for such offences more stringent. The judiciary also took steps to fast track the prosecution of the criminals and the judgment in the matter was pronounced recently. We hope that this example will serve as a deterrent.
Nevertheless, we need to discuss what further action needs to be taken by the society so that we can deal with the root cause of discrimination and denigration of women. We will also need to change the attitude of the society. As more and more opportunities are seized by the young women of this country for their economic and social development in our growing economy, we will have to ensure that this does not lead to friction in the society.
The second issue relates to the treatment of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and the atrocities inflicted on them. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India have been subjected to indignity, marginalization and neglect through ages. In spite of affirmative action provided for in the Constitution, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have still not been integrated fully into the society. On the other hand, they continue to be subjected to atrocities. In the last three years, the statistics on the subject reveal an increasing trend in cases of atrocities committed against these classes. There is an attitude of indifference in even prosecuting the cases that have been registered under the stringent Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The disturbing fact is that the rate of conviction in these cases is very poor. Various pretexts are taken recourse to and justice denied. Unless those committing the atrocities are punished, there will be no deterrence for the people who perpetrate such crimes. This forum may like to discuss the hurdles that still act as barriers for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to catch up with the rest of the society, live in a dignified manner and become equal partners in national development.
I now come to the third item of the agenda which relates to the need to sustain communal harmony and national integration. Here again, the statistics on communal violence show an increasing trend in the last two years. The frequency of incidents, especially in the last few months, seems to suggest that there is a sinister motive behind them. It is noticed that the communal forces seem to have got emboldened and are trying to polarize the society. Minor incidents tend to get escalated into major incidents of violence leading to displacement of affected communities.
We as a country are proud of our legacy of tolerance and respect for each others. We are a nation of diverse cultures, languages, and religions. Ours is the land where diverse religions have flourished together and the people have lived harmoniously. In spite of this diversity, the invisible but all-pervasive thread of being 'Indian' keeps us united. It is, therefore, our foremost duty to keep this 'torch of unity' shining bright under all circumstances. The tradition of communal harmony, tolerance and mutual respect have always been the distinguishing features of our civilization and polity. This tradition continues even today. Indeed, democracy can prosper and flourish only with strict adherence to secularism.
I firmly believe that only a small group of people amongst us is responsible for creating divisions amongst us. It is our duty to resist these forces. In addition, I feel, the institutions of our democracy must also be strengthened to meet the challenges that are becoming a threat to our pluralistic ethos. I would urge this forum to suggest the measures that should be adopted to strengthen the forces of national integration and to resolutely fight the divisive forces that threaten our social fabric.
I welcome you once again and look forward to your valuable suggestions to deal with the malaise of communal disharmony, gender inequality and attack on weaker sections of the society in order to build a strong and prosperous India."
--IBNS (Posted on 23-09-2013)