The following speech was delivered at the Institute of Social Sciences Conference on Democracy in India.
Opening the conference was Justice J.S. Verma, Former Chief Justice of India and Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission of India.
Also speaking at the conference was Mr. Roel von Mijenfeldt, Director, Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (www.nimd.org), Carl Gershman, Director of the National Endowment for Democracy (www.ned.org), and Dr. Farooq Abdallah, Former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, among others
Your Excellencies and Distinguished Guests. Dr. George Matthew and Dr. Ash Roy, Carl Gershman. Ladies and Gentleman.
Please permit me to begin by quoting the great Rabindranath Tagore, from his book of poems known as A Flight of Swans – Poems from Balaka:
I hear the countless voices of the human heart
From the dim past to the dim unblossomed future
Hear, within my own breast,
The fluttering of the homeless bird which,
In company with countless others,
Flies day and night,
Through light and darkness,
From shore to shore unknown
Tagore was of course referring to the flying swans, or Hansa-balaakaa in Bengali. I understand that this word is to pious Hindus a symbol of the human soul winging its way to its heavenly resting-place. To my mind, the celebration of the human spirit may also be likened to TagoreÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s metaphor of the eternal flight of the swans.
In this regard, we may say that democracy is about giving dignity to the human spirit, which is founded on the doctrine of natural rights that all individuals are endowed by their creator with a right to life, liberty, and estate. I believe democracy is also about pluralism, without which dissenting views will not find expression and a healthy vibrant opposition will not materialize. Essential to this process is a profound commitment to the protection of the minority and to the rule of law and justice so that these natural rights shall not be taken away from the people.