The father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, once remarked, “Youth are agents for transformation”. The history of modern India would be incomplete without acknowledging the role played by students and youth of this country.
Many social revolutions and changes were brought about through politically conscious and socially responsible students, who raised their voices against existing inequities. Students have been the face of the Indian independence movement. In fact, the youth have often taken up certain causes and inspired many political parties to take up the same subsequently.
Education has a social agenda. The agenda is to develop our human resources, which meet the requirements of society. An educated citizenry is the greatest asset for any democratic society. Students are known for their readiness to fight for all the right causes because their thoughts are pure and honest. They are always at the forefront, questioning injustice. Any keen observer of Indian society would notice that in the past few decades, no big leader has emerged from the student community. This appears to be correlated with diminished participation of students in social causes after liberalisation. The importance of students’ participation in a modern democracy cannot be played down.
It is necessary for you (students) to take part in current debates. You must have a clear vision. It is essential that more and more well-meaning, forward-looking, and upright students like you enter public life. You must emerge as leaders. After all, political consciousness and well-informed debates can steer the nation into a glorious future as envisioned by our Constitution. A responsive youth is vital for strengthening democracy.
It is, therefore, necessary for students to realise the importance of their relationship with society. Students are an integral part of society. They cannot live in isolation. Students are guardians of freedom, justice, equality, ethics, and social equilibrium. All this can be achieved only when their energies are properly streamlined. When the youth become socially and politically conscious, the basic issues of education, food, clothing, healthcare, shelter, etc. would come into focus in the national discourse. The educated youth cannot remain aloof from social reality. You have a special responsibility.
Consider this: Nearly one-fourth of our population still lacks access to basic education. Only about 27 per cent of those in the age group of university students are enrolling for university education. While most of you leave these institutes with degrees and titles, always be aware of the world that you are a part of. You cannot remain self-centred. Do not allow narrow and partisan issues to dominate the nation’s thought process. This will ultimately hurt our democracy and the progress of our nation.
The youth of today is driven by idealism and ambition. Idealism without ambition may not achieve any positive results. Ambition without idealism can be dangerous. Combine the two in the right proportion and enable our country to emerge as one of the most powerful and harmonious.
The learnings of my generation were different. In addition to formal learning in school and college, tough circumstances taught us many valuable lessons. When we left college in search of a livelihood, the change was not abrupt. There was freedom for us to experiment, work, play and learn from society.
Unfortunately, the focus nowadays is on professional courses to the total neglect of equally important subjects such as humanities and natural sciences. In an anxiety to secure highly remunerative and profitable job opportunities, children are sent to exile in privately-run residential schools and coaching centres. The formative years of budding talents are spent in a suffocating atmosphere that unfortunately resembles prisons. The harsh reality is that even after the students enter professional universities, the focus is on classroom learning, and not on the world beyond the classroom.
My general observations on the power and responsibility of students and the youth are even more relevant when it comes to all of you who are graduating today. You are all law graduates of one of the premier law universities in the country. All of you have a special responsibility to society.
Lawyers cannot be strangers to socio-economic and political realities. With countless tools at your disposal, all the knowledge and information in the world a click away, you are in a privileged position. While it is not wrong to choose a life of convenience, I hope that you choose a life of service as well, for the future of this nation.
Be aware of prevailing inequities and ask yourselves: Can I be a part of the solution? Particularly, in a country like India, you need to be social architects. The legal profession is not about profit maximisation. It is a service to your client. Remember your duty to the court and to the law. Carry out your sacred task with utmost sincerity and honour.
When you enter the profession you will take an oath on the Constitution. Always remember your solemn duty to uphold the Constitution. You all are aware, independence of the judiciary is sacrosanct in ensuring the rule of law. As officers of the court, you must always guard the institution during testing times. You must always remain vigilant about possible attacks. This is our collective responsibility towards the Constitution.
It is for you to shape the future of this country. The opinions you write, policies you draft, pleadings and submissions that you file in Court and the ethics that you hold dear, will have a far-reaching effect.
As the former US President John F Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
This column first appeared in the print edition on December 10, 2021 under the title ‘No country for ivory towers’. The writer is Chief Justice of India. This article is an edited excerpt of the Convocation Address he delivered at National Law University, Delhi, on December 9