In his customary address to the nation on the eve of the 53rd Republic Day, which will also be his last address before he demits office by middle of this year, the President said the social questions would have to be addressed if “our great democracy is to remain great and relevant to the masses.”
Dawing attention to the problems affecting the masses, he said the country would be strong and powerful enough to pursue the policy of peace and coexistence, which it had been following with regard to its neighbours, and “that will be our democratic answer to the evil phenomenon of terrorism”.
In his appeal to the private sector, the President said, “in the present economic system and of the future, it is necessary for the private sector to adopt social policies that are progressive and more egalitarian for the deprived classes to be uplifted from their state of deprivation and inequality and given the rights of citizens and civilised human beings”.
Referring to the recent Bhopal Declaration, adopted by a conference of dalits and tribals, in which they have demanded representation not only in government and public institutions but “ in private corporations and enterprises which benefit from government funds and facilities”, the President said “this is not to ask the private enterprises accept socialism, but to do something like what the Diversity Bill and the affirmative action that a capitalist country like the US has adopted and is implementing”.
Talking about the plight of women, Mr Narayanan said the problem was symbolic of the inequalities and injustices in society in general. “Even today it is amazing that we have not become an inclusive society in spite of the political triumph of our democracy. The discrimination being suffered by women, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is a crying denial of the democracy that is enshrined in our Constitution.”
“Incidences of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work places and trafficking of women have increased many folds. Half the number of women killed in India are killed in their bedrooms. Rise in cases of sexual harassment by 40 per cent, dowry deaths by 15.2 per cent and smuggling of girls by 87.2 per cent in 1998 are indicative of their traumatised existence. No place is safe for them, not even in their mother’s wombs. They are put to death even before they are born,” the President said.
Quoting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poem, “in every panchayat Draupadi is robbed of her honour” he said “she is today not only dishonoured in panchayats but also in the city transport buses, in the city streets and even in her own homes. It is high time we got rid of this inequality and indignity to women in our country. The success of women movements at the grass root level in India shows that it is possible for us to do so”.
Emphasising on the need for proper development of children, the President said “the future of India will depend on the development of this human wealth. It indeed depends on the health and welfare of our children”. Growth and proper nourishment of children remain at the root of human resources development and the progress of the society and the nation. “With the largest number of children in the world, India has a large reservoir of human wealth”, he said adding that it was encouraging that the country had had some success in the welfare and development of children.
“India has the largest Integrated Child Development Programme in the world for extending nutrition, health and educational facilities to the children of our country. We have adopted the Pulse Polio Programme that now covers the entire country. Mass immunisation programme has achieved remarkable results. If all these programmes together with children’s education are implemented we can look forward to a bright future for our children and our country”.