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President Pranab Mukherjee with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar first convocation of Nalanda University campus at Rajgir, Nalanda. (Photo: PTI)

Universities must be bastions of free speech, debates be encouraged: Prez

WT24 Desk

Nalanda: President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said universities and institutions of higher learning must be bastions of free speech and expression and debates should be encouraged, PTI reports.

At the first convocation of Nalanda University, he said the varsity reflects an idea, a culture which flourished for 1,200 years before it was destroyed in the 13th century. He said that over the years, India has conveyed the message of friendship, cooperation, debate and discussions through the institutions of higher learning.

“Dr Amartya Sen in his book ‘The Argumentative India’ has correctly pointed out that debate and discussion is the ethos, a part of Indian life which cannot be done away with.”

 “Universities and institutes of higher learning are the best forum for debates, discussions, free exchange of views…such atmosphere should be encouraged,” Mukherjee said.

He said the modern Nalanda should ensure that this great tradition finds new life and vigour within its precincts. “Universities must be bastions of free speech and expression. It (Nalanda) must be the arena where diverse and conflicting thoughts contend. There should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred within the spaces of this institution. Further, it must act as the flag bearer for co-existence of multiple views, thoughts and philosophies,” he said.

Mukherjee asked the students, who passed out of the varsity today, to progress in life, leaving behind “all narrowness of minds and constricting thoughts”.

The ruins of the ancient university are located close to the new campus. The MoU on the establishment of Nalanda University has so far been signed by 13 East Asia Summit participating countries and four non-EAS countries.

Taking about the historical importance of Nalanda University, Mukherjee said it was a melting pot of Indian, Persian, Greek and Chinese cultures. “Ancient Nalanda is known for high level of debates and discussions. Though the main subjects of study were Buddhist texts, importance was also given to critiques of Buddhism by various schools, study of Vedas and beyond,” he said.

Mukherjee gave away gold medals to two students and 12 post graduate degrees at the convocation.

He also laid the foundation stone of the 455-acre permanent campus of the university in the foothills of Rajgir. It will be built with the help of “green technology”. “I understand that Nalanda University is striving to be a net zero energy, zero emissions, zero water and zero waste campus, a first of its kind in India. By adopting a net zero energy goal as early as 2013, the university has attempted to link its historical legacy to urgent contemporary issues of environmental sustainability,” he said.

Till now, the classes were being held in a makeshift campus near the Rajgir bus stand. The School of Historical Studies, the School of Ecology and Environment Studies and the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions are operating in the varsity.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the state will continue to provide all assistance to the university. Kumar said when former President A P J Abdul Kalam visited Bihar to address a joint session of the state Assembly in 2006, he had desired that Nalanda University should be restarted following which land was identified and a bill was prepared.

The Chief Minister said it was Mukherjee who took keen interest in the project and announced it during the East-India Summit, triggering a positive response from southeast Asian countries. Once the Centre started working on the project, the state repealed a law and handed over to it the land which was acquired for the project.

Kumar, however, rued the delay in building the campus of the University. “Sushma Swaraj was scheduled to come today but she could not. Else, I would have asked her when is she going to get the campus building completed. The Secretary (East) has assured me that it will be constructed within three years,” Kumar said.

He alleged that UNESCO officials “showed reluctance” in declaring the ruins of Nalanda as a world heritage site and said it were the efforts of the international community led by India that it found a place in the list.

“I do not know what would find a place in the list of world heritage sites if thousands years old ruins won’t. The officials involved in the desk work had issues, but they were sorted out with the efforts of the representatives of the Centre and the state government,” he said.

Bihar has also given 70 acres of land as endowment land to the university and all the earnings from it will belong to the institution so that it has not to depend on any government for funds.

The first Chancellor of the university, Amartya Sen, who was also in attendance at the convection, highlighted rich traditions of Nalanda and congratulated the staff and students for giving the project a good start.

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