Advising law graduates to be the change they seek in matters relating to governance and the state, President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday urged them to refuse to pay bribe or support violence or oppression.
"You have to be brave. If you are asked to pay a bribe, have the courage to refuse. If you are asked to support violence, corruption or oppression, have the courage to say no," said Mukherjee at the 24th annual convocation of National Law School of India University (NLSIU) here.
Admitting that breaking an unjust system was about making difficult choices due to fear of reprisal, the President said Mahatma Gandhi, who was a lawyer, could not have forged the instrument of satyagraha (non-violence) and led the people of India to independence if he was not brave and willing to make the difficult choice of fighting against the rulers in South Africa.
"The legal fraternity, especially students of law, must be in the vanguard of the battle for the rights and welfare of our people. Universities like NLSIU must take the lead in meeting challenges and ensuring that our love for motherland, performance of duty, compassion for all, tolerance, pluralism, respect for women, honesty in life are entrenched in young minds," he asserted.
Also noting that legal education had undergone a paradigm shift over the last two decades, the President said the law university must bridge the gap between theoretical concepts and practical application by igniting inquiry and spirit of asking questions on all issues.
"You must help policy-makers make the right policies. You must be willing to read, learn and formulate views on national issues. A democracy cannot be healthy without informed participation. It is not enough to merely vote periodically. It requires effective implementations," he told the graduating students.
Asserting that India had one of the finest constitutions in the world, the President said its driving principle was a compact between state and citizen, a powerful public-private partnership nourished by justice, liberty and equality.
"Our Constitution represented a second liberation, this time from the stranglehold of traditional inequality in gender, caste, community along with other fetters that had chained us for too long," he averred and urged the students to study the Constitution well and understand the political system, its institutions and processes as established by it.
"Analyse the choices that were made to build the country into what it is today. Recognise that intelligent choices will need to be made for enabling the country reach its potential. Participate in making these choices and don’t just be a bystander," he said.
Observing that lawyers were given a special status in the country because society recognised the special functions they perform, Mukherjee said they have a duty to fight injustice.
"The Supreme Court has through public interest litigation provided a powerful instrument in the hands of the common people which strengthened our democracy," he recalled.
Congratulating the students graduating from the prestigious institution, the President advised them to pass on what they learnt and help others understand their rights as well as their responsibilities.
Karnataka Governor Vajubhai R Vala, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Chief Justice of India Justice T.S. Thakur were among the dignitaries present at the convocation.
The 30-year-old state-run law school was set up in 1986 to reform legal education and establish a centre of excellence for legal education and research in the country.