Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Distinguished guests,
I deem it a great honour to receive the prestigious Appeal of Conscience Award. I regret that I am not able to be with this distinguished gathering in New York tonight. Please do, however, accept my warm greetings and appreciation for your work and for the honour you have bestowed upon me.
I believe there is no ideal more worthy of our pursuit than a willingness to live and let live, to coexist on this beautiful planet, living with each other, irrespective of race, nationality, language, religion, gender and any one of our individual identities.
We live in a world that is more integrated and interdependent than ever before. The age of information and instant connectivity is upon us. The world is more connected, but also more vulnerable.
Rabbi Schneier, yours is an extraordinary mission that seeks to make a real difference to our collective prosperity and security, and therefore, I wish you and your colleagues all success.
I accept this Award on behalf of a people who have lived in this sacred land for a millennia and have lived together. India has been guided since ancient times by the fundamental belief that while spiritual expression takes many forms and the journey for universal truth takes many paths, we are all united by our highest values, ideals and our inherent humanism.
Our view of the world is guided by two ancient Sanskrit sayings - Vasudhaiva Kutambakam – The Whole World is One Family - and Sarva Dharma Sambhava – All Faiths are Equal.
These ideas and ideals come not just from our Holy texts, but from our lived experience. They have become the tenets of our Republic and our Constitution.
India has attracted people of diverse persuasions in search of land, fortune, refuge or knowledge. They have enriched the composite nature of the Indian civilization and its cultural diversity. Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism were born on Indian soil. Judaism, Christianity and Islam came to India very soon after their revelation. Today, 160 million Muslims are contributing to India’s nation building efforts.
The founding fathers of our country built upon these pluralist traditions when India attained freedom. We were fortunate to have men and women of vision who drafted a Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights, accommodates diversity and contains special provisions for minorities and vulnerable groups.
India’s democracy since then has grown from strength to strength enabling all sections of society to participate in the process of governance. In the last two decades, rapid economic growth has opened new opportunities for us to widen our development options.
I am convinced that the socio-economic transformation of a population as large as India’s within the framework of a democratic polity will have profound implications on which way the world will head in the future.
India and America are two societies that celebrate diversity and value pluralism. It is because we practice these values that we also know how hard it is to preserve them. They are under constant challenge from forces that seek to divide us on the basis of religion, language or colour. It is vitally important that we defeat these forces. We cannot and must not allow a narrow fringe to make societies hostage to the ideologies of extreme intolerance.
The events of September 11 in New York and November 26 in Mumbai have changed the way we look upon each other and even at ourselves. Should the battle against terrorism blind us to our core values?
The answer has to be in the negative because what is equally true is that terrorism in the name of a religion is an affront to all religions. We simply cannot afford to define communities, societies and religions based on the action of a small group of individuals.
At the same time, the State has to provide an atmosphere in which men and women are treated equal, where there is equal opportunity and there is respect for human rights.
This battle for the hearts and minds of people continues to be fought across the world. We should seek solutions to some of the problems that have divided our communities that redress meaningfully the grievances of people while giving them dignity, honour and self-respect.
As I have often said, terrorism anywhere threatens peace everywhere. Poverty anywhere, undermines prosperity everywhere. It is, therefore, in all our interests to seek a world free of terror, free of poverty, free of tyranny.
At the global level, we must seek a more just and equitable world by accelerating global economic growth; turning our attention to the poorest and the most vulnerable sections of our societies; and advancing healthcare, education and food security; and conserving our environment.
These ideals are not new; they are by no means easy to pursue. We must continue to strive to make our world a better place. The ecosystem is defined by diversity rather than uniformity, yet its fundamental traits are balance and harmony. There is no reason for human society to be any different.
I once again thank Rabbi Schneier and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for bringing together such a distinguished gathering, and for giving me the privilege of speaking to you tonight.