"Distinguished Dean of the University Juan Carlos Sainz-Borgo, Distinguished members of the academic community, Esteemed members of the diplomatic corps, Esteemed officials of the government of Costa Rica, My dear students, Distinguished Sisters and Brothers.
Pura Vida and Namaskar to all of you!
I am delighted to be here with all of you today at the University for Peace (UPeace). It is, indeed a humbling experience for me to be be honoured with the degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa). This is an honor for my country rather than to me as an individual. It is an honour you are bestowing to a country, a civilization and a culture that has been an ardent and consistent champion of peace since time immemorial. It is a country that demonstrated to the world the power of ‘non-violence’. I am proud to belong to a country that produced Gandhiji, a rare colossus whose ideas on peace and non-violence have been a source of inspiration for over a century to different leaders in different parts of the world. I am privileged to receive this honour when the world is commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, the extraordinary apostle of peace, who has been enshrined in yourbeautiful campus within The Peace Garden.
I am indeed grateful to the University for Peace for thinking of me and my country for this unique honour. To me, it is a recognition of the continuing relevance of Indian thought and vision in addressing contemporary challenges to world peace.
Sisters and brothers,
The history of human kind is a fascinating saga of endless quest for peace. This quest progresses against the backdrop of a ceaseless conflict between the forces of war and forces of peace, between destructive forces of hatred and healing forces of love and development, between fanatical war cries of religious bigotry and the soothing forces of tolerance and inclusion, between the megalomaniac designs of despotic rulers and the caring, empathetic forces promoting the welfare and well being of all.
The world today needs a vision that will rally most countries behind the forces of peace. The isolationist, fragmented, blinkered and divisive world view needs a radical transformation if peace has to have a chance. Against this backdrop, your honour which I am receiving today is an honour to a timeless vision that is relevant to the contemporary world more than ever before. It is an occasion to recollect what India, the founding member of this University, has to offer to further the objectives of this University and to build a culture of peace around the world.
The University's founding motto of "SI VIS PACEM – PARA PACEM" which translates as “If you desire peace, prepare for peace”. The question is “How do you prepare for peace”?
“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defences of peace must be constructed”, says the preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO. It is the mindset that needs to change. Education is the most potent instrument for this transformation. Knowledge and attitudes are mainly shaped in our educational institutions but they are influenced significantly by the mass media, the social media, by the political leadership, families and communities. If defences of peace have to be built, all these institutions have a role to play. However, the first step is to define the contours of a world view. It is here that Indian thought can be helpful.
Indian sages and philosophers had, around the 4th century BC, had given a universal vision of peaceful co-existence. Let me quote one verse that gives you a glimpse of this vision:
(Only the narrow minded persons consider some individuals as their own and others as alien. For those who have a liberal disposition, the whole world is merely a large family”.)
This is essentially about identity. We all have multiple identities, as a member of certain groups based on gender, language, religion, social group, common interest and nationality. The question is whether we can transcend these groups and identities and see others as our kin, as members of our large, extended family. The ability to appreciate and celebrate the fascinating diversity in thoughts, languages, cultures and religious beliefs is the foundation for the ability to live together. Peace begins with our search for the common bonds that unite us rather than when we look for and accentuate the differences.
The second useful thought process is the ability to see divinity in every human being. One of the ancient Indian philosophic texts, Ishavasya Upanishad, says, “Every living being in this universe has the same divinity within it.” Once we recognize that each human being is divine and has the same emotions and capabilitiesas any one else, we cannot but be respectful of each other. There can be no oppression, suppression and exploitation. Non-violence is a natural, concomitant corollary to this world view.
In leading India to independence by following the path of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi had served as the inspiration for non-violent movements across the world. Today, the world acknowledges his contribution to peace by celebrating International Day for Non-Violence on the occasion of his birthday on 2nd October. Indeed, so integral is peace to India’s civilizational ethos, that every prayer in India invokes peace, or shanty.
The 21stcentury has been described as a paradoxical epoch that is at once full of hope for peaceful co-existence but is also full of possibilities of conflicts. In the last century, the extraordinary vision and a clear recognition of mankind’s shared destiny led to the establishment of the United Nations, and after seven decades it continues to represent mankind’s collective dream of peace.However, that collective dream of the United Nations is today threatened by diverse forces of disruption.
As the world becomes more and more globalized and closely knit due to the forces of trade, commerce and information technology, the threats to global peace have also become more pervasive. Terrorism is the biggest scourge of our lives. It, along with threats like climate change and public health epidemics, do not follow the contours of political borders. In such circumstances, the United Nations, international cooperation and Member States acting in the spirit of cooperation are the only means of effectively facing these challenges.
UN itself would need to be strengthened. An expansion of the UN Security Council, which should include India - a country with one sixth of humanity, and the fastest growing large economy- will make it more representative and effective.
Even, as we in India celebrate 150th Anniversary of Gandhiji, the Mahatma or Great Soul, we continue to bear the impact of the most serious challenge to world peace. Terrorism has resulted in loss of lives of many innocent people. It has disrupted day-to-day living in so many parts of the world. Radicalization on the basis of religion is gaining ground.Indeed, terrorism is actually a struggle between the values of humanism and acts of inhumanity. It is a menacing threat to humanity that raises its ugly head and leaves a trail of destruction wherever it strikes. We must combat it with all the collective might. Its unholy nexus with illicit financial and arms flows must be severed.As one of the most diverse nations of the world, the people of India have practiced the concept of peace and harmonious co-existence for thousands of years. But India has also suffered the pain of cross-border strife. Our endeavour towards peaceful development has only too often been de-railed by cross-border terrorism.
Simultaneously, concerted action has to be taken to correct the distorted versions of religious interpretation.
We must build a larger collective effort to present a world view drawn from all the major faiths to encourage a greater understanding of the essential tenets that promote peace. These messages of peace need to reach wider audiences. The universal message of Hinduism with the overarching themes of universal brotherhood and peaceful coexistence have been cited earlier by me. In addition, greater emphasis should be given to the “paths of peace” of Holy Quran which show that “God abhors any disturbance of peace” and that “God grants to the non-violent what he doesn’t grant to the violent”. Focus should be on Christian teachings like “Blessed are the peace makers, for those promote peace”, “God wants us to live in harmony with one another” and “God is not a God of disorder but of peace”. Buddhism and Jainism have “non-violence” as the basic article of faith. These values and precepts have to be woven into the educational systems and inter-faith understanding should be further enriched.
Another challenge to world peace is that of climate change. Here again, the Indian world view had adopted an integrated perspective clearly establishing the inter-relatedness of humankind and nature. As the Vedic sages have said,
“May there be peace everywhere, in the sky, in space, all over our planet, in nature
May there be eternal peace.”
I am happy to note that there are some beautiful lines in Costa Rica’s national anthem that celebrate nature:
“Under the clear blue of your sky
White and pure rests peace”
It is this reverence for nature that must be brought back into our global culture and consciousness.
No country is spared the effect of extreme climatic events, and no Government can ignore the consequences of its destabilizing effects. A particularly painful feature of climate change is that it tends to impact the vulnerable populations the most.Mitigating the effects of climate change remains one of the most pressing challenges to peace and human security of our times through causing water and food stress on the planet. It is, therefore, pertinent that the UPEACE has its campus in Costa Rica, a country that is at the forefront of leading these initiatives.
India, despite having a historically low carbon foot-print, has been playing an active role in the global fight against climate change. In our multifaceted approach to address climate change, we have taken several new initiatives. With the motto of One World, One Sun and One Grid, India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Bhai Modi has launched in collaboration with the French Government the International Solar Alliance (ISA). ISA which is a partnership of 120 like-minded countries, aims to mobilize investments of $1 trillion for installing 1000 GW solar plants worldwide by 2030.
Inequalities and exclusion are major causes of conflict. Peace cannot be sustained in an environment where certain groups are marginalized or exploited. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underscores this aspect and aims to “leave no one behind”. India has embarked on a number of programmes that have the same inclusive approach called “SabkaSaath, Sabka Vikas” (Assistance to all and development of all). All countries in the world should adopt similar inclusive approaches to development which will avoid discontent and conflict.
Good governance with high level of accountability and transparency can also create a favourable peaceful environment.
India is undertaking ambitious actions for the social and economic development and poverty eradication. The rapid growth made by India in its development agenda has contributed to moving forward on the sustainable development goals.
I am also glad that I am speaking to you on the occasion of International Women’s Day. I do hope that all countries will give greater attention to women’s education and empowerment in their development architecture. Empowering women to actively participate in national development has been a key cornerstone of our policy.
India has experimented with giving leadership roles to over 3 million women in the local bodies across the country.
The key ingredients of good governance are meaningful dialogue with the people and their active participation. This is also the essence of democracy where the voice of people finds the best articulation. India has had a long history of grassroot level village organisations called Sabhas,Sanghas and Samitis. These are forums of grassroot level democracy. Strengthening these forums of discussion, debate and incorporation of the voice of people in policy making creates a favourable environment for peace to thrive. Simultaneously, enforcing the rule of law,creating speedy, objective systems of judicial redressal can enhance public satisfaction and reduce conflicts. Credible elections can reinforce the faith of public at large in democratic institutions and convince them that the ballot is more powerful than the bullet.
Peace is an integral part of the world we all want. As the world community resolved while formulating its goals for 2030, “We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”
Peace is not merely absence of conflict but a positive state of well being in which each individual in society can feel free to grow and access opportunities equitably, where justice is dispensed without fear or favour, where the rule of law prevails, where there is no discrimination on any basis, where national fervor and international cooperation co-exist and where force is used only to defend not to attack and the focus of the polity is on improving the quality of people’s lives.
Peace, therefore, is synonymous with development and civilized existence. It is the basic prerequisite for progress. The world should focus on reducing the income inequalities and should ensure that persistent development challenges like illiteracy, malnutrition, hunger and poverty are adequately addressed. We should aim at creating a world where every person has equal opportunities to succeed, to make progress and lead a happy life.
I am happy to note that since its inception in 1980, this University has produced hundreds of students in the different programmes of study and disciplines.As a strong, global knowledge player with a long history of learning, India is proud of its growing association with UPEACE, especially through this University’s India Initiative.
Let me conclude with the fervent hope that your efforts in the university will trigger a thought process which will result in tangible action to promote peace in the world. It has to be a two-pronged approach. The first component should be effectively combating the forces of hatred, violence, terrorism and organized crime. Simultaneously we should focus on strengthening democratic institutions, promoting the rule of law and resolutely reinforcing just and inclusive governance and implement aninclusive sustainable development agenda. India, as usual, would be happy to be in the vanguard of this movement.