Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit ~ Mahatma Gandhi
There is a raging debate about rising intolerance in the country. The Prime Minister has finally spoken on it, but only to target his political opponents. The Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley called PM Modi the biggest victim of ideological intolerance. More than 400 artists have signed a strongly worded statement against rising intolerance, A scientist has returned his Padma Bhushan, 54 writers have returned awards, 12 filmmakers have returned their national awards. 3 top scientific academies have criticised the Government’s approach towards rationality and imposing mythology on science. 135 scientists have return to the President against it.
The President of India, himself has spoken atleast twice on this issue. Now even film stars have joined in. Strongly outspoken Shah Rukh Khan has brought the debate in the mainstream. He said the biggest crime a patriot can commit is not following the ethos of Secularism. Strong words indeed.
The Modi Government was elected on the promise of economic progress, but when someone as adept as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw or Narayana Murthy starts speaking their mind against the Government, then there is a cause of concern. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has expressed concern on ‘bans’ being imposed. Ratings agencies, central bankers and corporate titans have now begun to speak directly of intolerance and of the connection between insecure minorities and India's growth prospects. This should send the alarm bells ringing in the Modi establishment.
There has been retaliation from the Government’s side too. Union Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari has gone on record to state that the state is capable of ‘silencing them’ (dissent). Arun Jaitley has termed it a ‘manufactured revolt’, while other ministers and BJP leaders have decried terming it as ‘politically motivated’. Some voices like Anupam Kher and Chetan Bhagat have minced no words to mock this kind of protest and questioned why didn’t the ‘so called conscience keepers’ didn’t protest when incidents like Emergency, exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, 1984 Riots happened?
Creative people are basically very emotionally attached to society. They draw, write, and compose their reflections of the society and life. They are the first observers of what is going on in the socio-political life of a Nation. They are close to life and their work often reflects the voice of people. When creative minds are questioned, then the there is a danger of anarchy. Democracy loses its space. When creative minds are taunted of launching a ‘manufactured revolt’ by the state, which the people have voted to the power by democratic means, then the state plunges into authoritarianism.
India is the largest and most vibrant democracies in the world. However, cliché, it may sound but India exists because of its diversity. Since 5000 years, India is the land of tolerance- of Buddha, Asoka and Mahatma Gandhi.
It is a matter of grave concern, when writers, thinkers and rationalists are attacked because of their views. A county devoid of artists is a soulless abandoned island. The deeper concern is that this tolerance has taken a violent form. From attacks on rationalists like MM Kulbargi, Dabholkar and Pansare, the lynching of an innocent man in Dadri, to several incidents of hate crime against minorities, recently the country has witnessed a lot of unabated violence.
The debate is not why these creative minds did or did not speak in the past where incidents of intolerance happened, the point is while they are protesting now, the Government and its acolytes are busy foul mouthing them. There are ways to protest and creative minds are gifted and innovative enough to choose their form of protest.
Was it a manufactured dissent when Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood and Mahatma Gandhi his returned Kaiser-i-Hind medal in protest against Jallianwala Bagh? When noted writer Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Bhushan because of Operation Bluestar, did the Government of the day termed it as ‘Intolerance’ against the Prime Minister?
India is a young country. Indians by and large are argumentative in nature; they have a habit of taking sides. But in recent times, the ‘Argumentative Indian’ is gradually becoming an ‘Intolerant Indian’. They have started taking sides and they refuse to respect the views of the other person. Every good conversation starts with good listening. One has to be open-minded enough to listen to the other person. One has to unprejudiced enough so as to respect what the other person eats, writes, expresses or wears!
A new political hypocrisy has emerged centre-stage: make all the constitutionally correct statements on freedom, liberty, secular fabric, tolerance but keep quiet or dilute or take no action against those who blatantly violate both spirit of the constitution and the rule of law. A citizen almost does not have a fundamental right to life, freedom etc. You can live or be free if they allow you to be so.
Respecting personal liberty of the other person is the most essential part of tolerance. We can only build a progressive India, when there are progressive views. When we learn to respect each other’s ‘freedom of choice’. Only then we can build a progressive nation.
If there is no compassion, no love, no respect or liberty for our people, then there won’t be any development. Progressive nations are built through consensus and conversations. The world has often emulated India’s progressive thoughts in spiritualism, religion, culture, plurality, custom, cuisine, language and crafts. As Rabindranath Tagore famously wrote: