Remembering K R Narayanan

By Obed Manwatkar

“As the President of India, I had lots of experiences that were full of pain and helplessness. There were occasions when I could do nothing for people and for the nation. These experiences have pained me a lot. They have depressed me a lot….”

---- K. R. Narayanan (February 4, 1921-November 9, 2005)

After Few years on the same day on 18th July 1997 Dr. K.R. Narayanan was elected as President of India. He was the first person coming up from a Dalit Community to hold this post. He was a 'Lover of Life', he knew the Importance of Life. President K.R. Narayanan consistently sought to remind the nation of its duties and obligations towards the dalits, tribals, the minorities, and the poor and downtrodden. He called the nation's attention to various recalcitrant social ills and evils, such as atrocities against women and children, caste discrimination and the ingrained attitudes it nurtured, abuse of the environment and public utilities, corruption and lack of accountability in the delivery of public services, religious fundamentalism, advertisement-driven consumerism, and flouting of human rights, and lamented the absence of public concern, political debate, and civic action to address them. Drawing from the experiences of his own home state Kerala, he pointed out that education was at the root of human and economic development. He hoped that the establishment would not fear the awakening of the masses through education and spoke of the need to have faith in the people.

He spoke on various occasions on the condition of the dalits, tribals, and other backward sections of society, and the various inequities they faced (often in defiance of law), such as the denial of civic amenities, ostracism, harassment and violence (particularly against women), and displacement by ill-conceived development projects.

He knew that many of the innocent people from marginalized community i.e. OBCs/SCs/STs which consist of 93% of India's population are not much educated and hence not liberated therefore, they are being forced to choose crime and some are hired to do crime from the so called upper-caste rulers. Hence in his time of presidency he banned judicial killings of the people.

He felt that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's exhortation to "Educate, Agitate, Organise" continued to be relevant; with the Scheduled Castes forming a quarter of the population in a democracy with universal adult franchise, he felt that the ultimate destiny of the backward sections lay in the hands of the backward sections themselves, organized socially and politically. When the Australian missionary and social worker Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burned alive (22 January 1999), President Narayanan condemned it as a barbarous crime belonging to the world's inventory of evil deeds.

"The barbarous killing of Dr. G.S. Staines and his two minor sons in Orissa belongs to the world's inventory of black deeds. That some one who had spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead of being thanked and appreciated as a role-model, should be done to death in this manner is a monumental aberration from the traditions of tolerance and humanity for which India has been known. I condemn this criminal act and join the nation in conveying our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Staines and the late Priest's co-workers and friends." – President K.R. Narayanan

Towards the end of his Presidency, communal riots broke out in Gujarat (February 2002).

President Narayanan was deeply pained and anguished and described it as a grave crisis of the society and the nation; he called it the duty of every Indian to strive to restore peace and thus preserve and strengthen the foundations of the state and the tradition of tolerance. He did not stand the election for a second Presidential term due to the lack of support from the ruling government.

The generations have passed after Madiba and K.R Narayana but the world hasn’t changed yet. We are witnessing the most horrific and brutal forms of Racism, Casteism, communal Pogroms. The Hate and destruction of the world is on its peak.

People who go through pain and sufferings emerge to triumph and a reason for a solution of healing of others those who go through pain. The ones who are pained today will emerge as a problem solver in the near future that’s the hope. Ashamed should be those who brutalize and marginalize others.

May the legacy of K.R. Narayana continue to shine like a lamp of hope in the Tsunami of Hate.

Obed Manwatkar is a Research Scholar in World Religions, based in Chicago, USA.

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