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LG’s Speech during the Annual Convocation of Jamia Millia Islamia

Thursday, November 28, 2013










Mr. Chancellor Sir, Mr. Vice Chancellor Sir, Mr. Registrar, Deans of Faculties, Heads of Departments, distinguished guests, my friends from the press and of course all of you dear students who are receiving degrees today. There are moments in life when you wish that time would stop for a while. This is one such moment in my life as I stand at this point completely humbled by this huge honour bestowed on me by a great university that stands for all the values that we cherish in India, symbolized by the best of brains that emanated from the freedom movement of India. I have no words to thank you, Mr. Vice Chancellor and thank the Academic Council of the Jamia Millia Islamia for having thought me fit to be a recipient of this great honour. What is of immense pleasure further is the fact that I should receive this honour on this day in the presence of 4500 students who have been my family over the past half decade of my life.

Convocations per se raise a problem. On the one hand there is the eagerness of students to receive their degrees and celebrate the moment. On the other hand, the universities use it as an occasion to say something to their departing students. Caught in between these two seeming contradictions, I intend to keep this speech very short.

But I must use this opportunity, and I believe that such an opportunity will not come my way in a long time, to share some thoughts with students and leave them with ideas to ponder upon. I say to the students that the Jamia Millia Islamia is not a mere university. It was intended to be and has indeed remained a movement to ignite the brightest of minds and to give them a confidence to boldly go where others fear to tread. An example of this is the life of our mentors and founders – Sheikh-ul-Hind, Mehmud-ul-Hasan, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Zakir Sahib, Prof. Mujeeb, and indeed by extension even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi and our first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

Their ideals as reflected in the Tarana of the Jamia Millia Islamia are again reflected beautifully in the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, beautifully enunciated in the Preamble of the Constitution itself. The Preamble contains the declaration that the Constitution will secure to all citizens, justice, social, economic and political, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and equality of status and of opportunity. This university was founded on these very principles and over the years has striven to secure and teach its students these fundamental values. The issue is to successfully drive home this idea and take it to another level. And I often see a contradiction because at times I have noted hesitation in students and I see that more often than not they put limits to what they can achieve. I say to you that Dr. Ambedkar, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Maulana Azad, the noted scientist and mathematician, Chandrashekhar and a litany of others would not have been what they were or achieved what they did had they shackled their minds to the existing environments of their homes or to the society in which they lived. Think for a moment of the mental capacities and courage of Mahatma Gandhi to fight in the most dangerous and difficult situations the repressive regime in South Africa. Think for a moment the scope of his mind on how he planned the independence of India from the clutches of the mightiest empire at that point of time. As you leave this university think of the courage of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar, B.K. Dutt, to create a band of revolutionaries to challenge injustice. Think and read of the life of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to leave the shores of India and move to Germany and then to Japan and raise an army to move across the whole of Asia and take on the British forces on the Indo-Burmese border. These are stories of men who dream and think and plan and they have the courage to execute their plans. I, therefore, say to you that you must leave this university with visions of grandeur and the great things you can do in your life.

Jamia Millia Islamia is an example of peaceful religious co-existence. So never for a moment forget the long traditions of accepted heterodoxy in India. Here at all points of time we have given space to all religions - Buddhism, Jainism, agnosticism and atheism, and allowed them to compete with each other in many ways and transform themselves in imbibing what we call Hinduism. With the passing of centuries and in the wake of a number of thinking rulers, savants, Sufis and bhakts we have evolved into a uniquely secular society. We celebrate the diversity of cultures in Kalidasa’s Meghadootam that applauds the beauty, the variety of human custom and behaviour. We see the same commitment of love and commonality of cultures in the writings of Amir Khusrao and the beautiful hymns of the bhakti and Sufi saints. Secularism is part of our inheritance and you must vow to transcend and rise above religion, caste and region so that we build an India on similar ideological terms as those conceptualized by Ashoka, Akbar, Dara Shikoh and the makers of our Constitution. These are Gandhian notions of social provision that people knitted together into a human tapestry.

Finally I believe that the Jamia Millia Islamia has a terrific future. I believe that in the decades to come this university will be in the forefront of giving India the scientific and intellectual leaders that it requires.


Mr. Vice Chancellor, I once again thank you for thinking of me and giving me this huge honour. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your time and goodbye, dear students. You know that my prayers and good wishes will always be with you.

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