Making sense (and non-sense) of the Tolerance debate

It is sad that our children have to grow up reading and listening to communal and divisive debates everyday. It is sad to see our country in the midst of such a loud debate on ‘intolerance’. Perhaps the media is the villain of the peace or perhaps the social media is the villain of the peace. Perhaps the ruling party is the villain of the peace, perhaps the opposition. Whatever be the case, the fact of the matter is that our Facebook feeds, Whatsapp groups are all filled with calls for boycotts, rabidly communal messages and abuses/ counter abuses.

Nothing makes sense, but let us try.

Let’s see where it started. Intolerant fringe elements have always been there, people like Giriraj or Togadia or Owaisi or Akalis. How was it then that suddenly they were given coverage un-proportional to their impact.

Our population is over 125 crore. There are thousands of murders everyday across the nation. Some of the crimes will always be against minorities or Dalits, in the proportion of their population, give or take some. A random Dalit murder, we now know it as a revenge murder, and it was shown as heavens falling on all Dalits. Regular crimes against Muslims were shown as communal attacks. With one exception though; the Dadri murder which clearly was a conspiracy with people from outside the village suddenly swooping down on a minority person. The press might have been right in reporting it, but it never asked the question as to who hatched the conspiracy. It pushed the debate towards the direction where Modi was the villain, instead of the conspirator being the villain. We missed the big story entirely.

It is clear that non-stop coverage of the above incidents amongst many others,  day in day out, were an effort to impact the Bihar elections, regular revenge crimes or conspiracies bloated out of proportion into hate crimes. They might also have been the Opposition’s agenda to damage India’s image and credibility so that Modi gets uprooted before he gets settled. Some people say that several well-entrenched business lobbies fed over decades of Congress’s doles are facing the heat of the change of guard  and are thus guiding this conspiracy.

The conspiracy is not proven but what is evident is that there might be an attempt by the Opposition to hit the Indian economy. Perhaps the communal angle is a missing part of the same puzzle.

Never before has been the Parliament so dysfunctional. Critical bills like the GST are being held hostage even though they are needed urgently for India’s economic growth. The land-acquisition bill needs amendments to give India a push, it is throttled. There is breakdown of constitutional processes.

The Opposition is playing ball with the Pakistani establishment to berate the Prime Minister of India, never before has that happened; if the government stalls talks they are being stupid; if the government restarts talks they are being inconsistent. Ex Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors are going to Pakistan and speaking against the government. Foreign Policy and Defence issues were issues that the Indian polity used to unite on. At one point of time Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister of India, sent Vajpayee, the then leader of Opposition for a speech at the UN. Can you imagine a similar situation today?

Congress Chief Ministers, who are subservient to the Prime Minister under the scheme of our Constitution, chose to boycott meetings called by the Prime Minister on various issues. Never before has this happened; an incident that hardly made news.There are many more incidents that show a much larger intolerance on the part of the Opposition and the Leftists, but that never makes the headlines.

The ‘intolerance’ is there, everywhere, across all sections of the society and it is growing. And while we recognise the ‘intolerant’ Hindu brigades, we hardly recognise the ‘intolerant’ Owaisis and the ‘intolerant’ Akalis or the ‘intolerant’ Leftists. A good solution would have been to silence Owaisi, silence Adityanath, silence the Sadhvi of Haramzade fame through effective penal action. And also, would have been good if Rahul Gandhi had not divided India into farmers v/s suited booted people which is a divide that also bodes ill for India. The Indian economy cannot afford a situation where all capitalists are seen as villains.

Whatever be the case, the majority secular class of India has fallen into the trap. Society is being fragmented into Modi haters and Modi Bhakts. The middle ground is receding and there are very few voices joining people from across the divide. Many of us Indians have no love for the chest thumping people. Not the Bajrang Dal types, or the Modi types, nor the Khalistanis, nor the Owaisis. But while we shoo off the chest thumping communals, we fail to recognise the chest thumping ‘tolerants’, and the chest thumping uni-dimensional ‘leftists’. There is no space for middle ground. With us or against us! Damned, we are.

‘Secular’, the adjective, has become a form of abuse, used mainly in its derivative word ‘sickular’. The minority appeasement secularism of Congress has ensured that Secularism as a philosophy is being buried to the extent that there is a real threat of it being removed from our Preamble.

The debate that started as an election strategy has degenerated to a point where friends are angry with friends for the sake of an actor, where our closet religious identities are being brandished with pride and arrogance on the face of the other, where our thoughts are being ghettoed.

We have reached our point where a writer, an author or  a speaker is judged not by his identity as a fellow Indian, his concerns are not seen as the legitimate concerns of a compatriot but are seen through the lens of his religion, coloured by the tint of his surname. In our attempt to prove we are ‘tolerant’, we are issuing calls for silencing a certain gentleman and forcing him to his knees. How ironic; that man just said his wife feels unsafe, and the whole country is out there to prove him wrong, and in doing so is proving him right (by proclaiming rewards for slapping him); does’nt make sense. He might have spoken as an Indian but he is seen just as a Muslim.

It has degenerated to a point where our children are forced to ask questions to us regarding our religious leanings, and why the voice of minorities are being throttled with threats of boycotts.

I miss our childhood days. I miss the days when we did not care what religion we belonged to and when we felt we had a right as Indians to speak whatever we felt was right. Perhaps our generation had it best. We missed the hate filled partition years, and we grew up in the age when “Hum bulbulen hai iski, ye gulsitan hamara” was the reigning jingle. “Mazhab nahin Sikhata, aapas mein bai karna” was a believable concept. If we dare to say the same amongst our friends and neighbours today, we run the risk of being kicked to Pakistan or being branded as an anti-national.

Believe it not, the intolerance debate may have started as a conspiracy; but it is now feeding itself and is growing into a Frankenstein monster.

I miss the days. The days when patriotism was a uniting force, not a bloated nationalistic axe with which to hit a compatriot. The days when we could speak our mind against the ills of our nation without the fear of being hounded.

This is not the India we grew up in. What a mess our generation has made of India. What an India we are passing on to our kids, an India of rabid nationalism. Nationalism, in its worst form can be the source of Fascism. Let us never forget the example of Germany where the emotion of Patriotism, of Duty for the Fatherland was used to kill dissent in the country.

You must be wondering whether I am with the BJP or against it. Whether I am with the Congress or against it. The write-up is confused, the writer is confused, is it? No, I am not confused; I am only trying to make sense of the overall breakdown of debate, the breakdown of the right to dissent, the breakdown of political consensus, the breakdown of communal harmony. I am trying to make sense of the ‘fear’ that Aamir Khan​ feels. I am trying to make the sense of the ‘fear’ that I feel. The fear of seeing our India morph into a mirror image of our neighbouring country, the fear of seeing India degenerate into an Afghanistan.

Think hard, take a deep breath and get out of the cycle. Stop this debate. Nurture our nation with love for our brethren across the communal and political divide. Let us believe in India as a melting pot for all religions, let us re-commit ourselves to inclusiveness, to tolerance (not only in thought but also in action). Let us hope that the Opposition realises that the people have voted a certain Modi as the Prime Minister for five long years. They can score brownie points in the election year, for now let us stand with him in his bona-fide actions. Let Modi Bhakts realise that they don’t have a God-given right to be the sole agents of Dharma, and let them re-affirm faith in the secular credentials of our Constitution.

Freedom of Speech derives from the philosophy as attributed to Voltaire by Evelyn Beatrice Hall “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  . It is time to redeem our pledge to protect the Freedom of Speech enshrined in our Constitution, in letter and in spirit.

Wishful thinking, many miles to go. But let us set the ball rolling.

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7 comments

  1. Very true kulveer. Intolerance is and will be every where in world till the cast and religion based identity is there.
    The people has to understand it.
    World need the preacher like guru nanak ji who said (Aik noor tai sabh jag upjai Kon bhale kon mandai )
    👍👍👍👍

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