No Scope for Intolerance

Intolerance is reaching new heights across the country. An innocent man was killed in Bishara village of Uttar Pradesh merely on suspicion of eating and storing beef. Three writers have paid with their lives for their rationalist writings. Black paint was poured on journalist and intellectual Sudheendra Kulkarni in Mumbai for hosting former Pakistan foreign minister, Khursheed Ahmad Kasuri at the launch of the latter’s book. Ink was thrown on Pakistani cricket umpire Aleem Dar forcing the International Cricket Council to withdraw him from umpiring duties in the India-South Africa series. Pakistani lyricist Ghulam Ali is denied permission to perform in Mumbai. Two children of a Dalit family were burnt alive in Haryana. A Muslim man was killed in Mumbai by his workshop colleagues accusing him of consuming beef during Bakrid. A Union Minister makes a totally insensitive remark on the Haryana incident. An MLA is beaten up within the Assembly premises in Srinagar. Unruly elements jump onto the stage in Gurgaon and raise slogans, while a Pakistani troupe is enacting a play. A Dalit writer was assaulted in Davangere for his writings that protested against caste-based oppression.
Never had the country witnessed such outrageous incidents and insensitive statements within such a short span of time. While extremist are known to harbor prejudices of the vilest kind, they were not bold and free enough to carry out what is essentially part of their conviction. They are now indulging in hate-mongering and targeting free thinkers with impunity.
Freedom of expression is central to any democracy. Difference of opinion and dissent must be tolerated, for it is dissent that enables people to test one or the other form of ideas, visions and opinions. Remove dissent, the democracies would be as dreary and drab as the ‘Petromonarchies’ of the Gulf, despotic Muslim states and authoritarian regimes elsewhere. India rejected that trajectory which Pakistan chose for itself as the two nation-states began their post-Independence journey. Islamic Pakistan entered the blind alley, what with some Muslim sects being excommunicated; intellectuals driven away to the West; former Presidents and Prime Ministers and Opposition leaders forced into self-exile; minorities persecuted on false charges of blasphemy; suicide bombers blowing up themselves and the congregants in mosques of rival sects; and, gun-toting Talibans targeting Malalas and Bhattis. Pakistan has undergone enough of torment to warn us against treading the path of extremism.
India must thank its founding fathers for having given its diverse people a polity that tolerates even the intolerant ideologies and their practitioners. Rival ideologies have competed with each other and been accepted and rejected at the altar of elections and governance. Process of reform has had a benign face in India. There have been fewer attempts at banning, abolitions and eliminations. Reforms had its advocates as well as opponents. But atmosphere of free debates has largely obviated the scope for militias, mafias and vigilantes. Neither the niqabs nor the minarets have suffered bans. Caste monopolies operate, notwithstanding the Constitutional discouragement, official disapproval and political abhorrence. Gender discriminations are known to exist among communities, but are never forcibly erased.
Results are there for everyone to see. The country has emerged as a regional power. Several new states have emerged on the map satisfying regional identities. Backward castes rule the roost in certain states. Doughty women continue to dominate parties and politics in several states. Economy is upswing with growth rate threatening to cross the eight per cent bar. Thanks to the Sachar Report, Muslims are joining the mainstream. Media screams when an Ikhlaq Saifi is killed or a Zeeshan Ali is discriminated against in matters of recruitment. Every single idea, ideal, ideology and ideologue finds scope for acceptance among people. Useful and honest ones inspire; obscurantist and orthodox are trashed; mediocre and nincompoops fall by the wayside and tested and tried ones are rejected when they refuse to renew and realign with new realities.
Writings on the wall for our leaders should be clear. They must resist the temptation to kowtow to the dictates of the extremist fringe. India’s socio-historical realities should guide our way forward. The nation has never allowed extremists to occupy the centre stage of power. Liberal humanism should be the guiding philosophy of the State with individuals free to prescribe and proscribe dos and don’ts as per the dictates of the tenets of their faiths.

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