Universities and nation building

‘The universities have much to teach in the modern world and their scope of activity ever enlarges. I believe that the world will ultimately be saved by the methods and approach of science’

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Photo Courtesy: social media
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The universities have much to teach in the modern world and their scope of activity ever enlarges. I am myself a devotee of science and believe that the world will ultimately be saved, if it is to be saved, by the methods and approach of science.

But whatever path of Iearning we may pursue, and however profitable it might seem to us, there is a certain basis and foundation without which the house of learning is built on shifting sands. It is for a university to realise and to lay stress on this essential basis and foundation, these standards of thought and action, which make an individual and a nation.

Above all, this is necessary today, during this extremely rapid phase of transition, when old values have almost left us, and we have adopted no new ones. Freedom came to us, our long sought freedom, and it came with a minimum of violence. But immediately after, we had to wade through oceans of blood and tears.... Horror piled on horror and a sudden emptiness seized us at the brute savagery of human beings.

The light seemed all to go but, not all, for a few still flickered in the raging tempest.... The lights seemed to go out. But one bright flame continued to burn and shed its light on the surrounding gloom. And looking at the pure flame, strength and hope returned to us and we felt that whatever momentary disaster might overwhelm our people, there was the spirit of India, strong and unsullied, rising above the turmoil of the present and not caring for the petty exigencies of the day.

How many of you realise what it has meant to India to have the presence of Mahatma Gandhi during these months? We all know of his magnificent services to India and to freedom during the past half century and more. But no service could have been greater than what he has performed during the past four months when, in a dissolving world, he has been like a rock of purpose and a lighthouse of truth, and his firm low voice has risen above the clamours of the multitude, pointing out the path of rightful endeavour. We have recently passed through a great world war.... It brought the downfall of what had been called fascism and Nazism.

Both of these creeds were narrow and over- bearing and based on hatred and violence.... They ended by ruining the nations they sought to exalt. I see something very similar to that flourishing in India today. It talks in the name of nationalism, sometimes of religion and culture and yet it is the very opposite of nationalism, of true morality and of real culture. If there was any doubt of this, the past few months have shown us the real picture....

A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people. But if the temple of learning itself becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives, how, then, will a nation prosper or a people grow in stature?

A vast responsibility, therefore, rests on our universities and educational institutions and those, who guide their destinies.... Let us be clear about our national objective. We aim at a strong, free and democratic India, where every citizen has an equal place and full opportunity of growth and service, where present day inequalities in wealth and status have ceased to be, where our vital impulses are directed to creative and cooperative endeavour.

In such an India communalism, separatism, isolationism, untouchability, bigotry and exploitation of man by man have no place and, while religion is free, it is not allowed to interfere with the political and economic aspects of a nation’s life. If that is so, then all this business of Hindu and Muslim and Christian and Sikh must cease so far as our political life is concerned, and we must build a united but composite nation where both individual and national freedoms are secure.

(Extracts from the Address at the convocation on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of the Allahabad University, 13 December, 1947, reproduced in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 4, pp205-08.) Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.)

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