Intolerance Debate in India

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“To make a [Muslim], therefore, to abstain from cow-killing under compulsion would amount in my opinion to converting him to Hinduism by force.”  –  Mahatma Gandhi in his book Hind Swaraj

The nation, which gave rise to four religions and has secularism and free speech both enshrined in it’s constitution, of late seems to be involved in the “intolerance debate”. The crux of this has been some elements of the society claiming that India as a nation is tolerant of all religion, caste, creed etc. while another school claiming the contrary.

The debate started making headlines with the Dadri Lynching incident where Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched and his son, Danish, was brutally beaten up for allegedly having beef on the eve of Eid and storing the same in their house for later consumption. This incident lead to widespread outage through out the country and a protest popularly termed “award wapsi” was started wherein Bollywood celebrities started returning their national awards in protest to the rising intolerance in the country. Prior to this, even Sahitya akademi recipients had started returning their awards for the similar reason of growing intolerance and government inaction to the same.

The debate reached a boiling point where it all turned ugly, rather uglier than it already was, when renowned Bollywood actor Amir khan claimed that the India as a nation is intolerant and that his wife was scared for her kids and was considering shifting to another country. This enraged people to such an extent that a Hindu outfit (Hindu Sena) even booked tickets for Aamir Khan to Pakistan, while another outfit and political party (Shiv Sena) claimed to reward Rupees one crore to anyone who slaps Aamir khan.

It even went on to the extent where Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha, from Bihar, a self acclaimed custodian of justice who has filed more than 500 cases against celebrities starting from Anna Hazare to even Shahrukh Khan and his wife Guari Khan, went on to lodge a FIR against the actor and his wife at the  Town police station under the Muzaffarpur district under the sections 153 (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc), 153B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 154 (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code.

Now this is highly ironic given the fact that the attitude shown towards the “intolerant remark” was in itself intolerant and went on to prove how right he was, but does it go on to prove that the nation is really intolerant?

To understand the same, it is important to note what the word intolerant actually means and why the debate is pertinent to the nation and further more is this debate politically motivated or have we actually reached a point of epitome of intolerance.

The word intolerance means not accepting any views or opinion that is different from your own, in the present case scenario of India the debate largely revolves around the notion of intolerance to religious beliefs, for e.g. having beef. While it is fundamentally fine in Islam to have beef the same is not true for a Hindu as the cow is holy in Hindu belief system. Now this is an issue which is really important to India which, though, is a Hindu majority country but the Muslim population too is very significant, 175 million to be specific, which is higher than the population of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia combined. Therefore in a country which is so high on plurality of cultures it is only natural that there be occasional inter-cultural dissent and the answer to the same is not politicizing it or to use it as a political propaganda for elections as has been done because doing so has a two fold problem.

First, it creates an unwanted pandemonium and second it gives visibility to the cultural instability in the country at a global stage which is problematic for the economy as a whole as it would be perceived to be a bottleneck in obtaining foreign investment.

The unwanted pandemonium can be catastrophic in the sense that once a particular sect feels unwanted or deprived in a nation it is generally seen that they lose faith in all institutions of the society such as the judiciary and the legislation and starts taking law into their own hands, and this happens when the issue is highlighted to an extent where it is being portrayed worse than it actually is, as it is being done now. However, if the same is not done then precedent shows that there might be an occasional break out of conflicts between two religions, and the same can be said to be in the course of nature, but in the long run it is settled amicably. Take the case of Gujarat – the state which witnessed one of the worst communal riots, the Godhra riot, has never, after that incident, seen anything even remotely close to the same. The act of politicizing the issue thus actually leads to what can be termed as a state sponsored communal divide for nothing other than their political benefit.

The second problem is that of the economic implications. When a country’s political instability gains a global visibility it is a direct impediment to the foreign investment. The case for India is even more serious given the fact that such intolerant comments are made by lawmakers from the ruling party. For e.g. when a member of the BJP makes a comment such as killing of cow and using its product won’t be tolerated in India it directly discourages any leather based industry or any industry which uses cow products to invest in India. The negativity in mentality can already be said to have been initiated as many foreign leaders and foreign media houses have already started questioning Modi’s silence on such issues.

And highlighting the “intolerance debate” and propagating it to be worse than it actually is thus not helping the country’s case both in bringing internal peace nor in putting up a good global image.

The comment made by Aamir Khan may be appropriate in terms of its content but definitely not in terms of the audience to which it was made and the reason behind it is both logical and practical, the 68-year-old democracy is yet to come to terms with complete secularism – it is not a problem with the country but a part of the longer journey towards nearing a complete secularism. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom has even higher rates of hate crimes, for e.g. islamophobia and discrimination against blacks, when compared to that of India and the fact that such issues get more attention and create greater agitation than its “developed” counterparts only goes on to show that India even though has its problem in accommodating the multiplitude of cultures but it is definitely above par than others when compared to its age.

Thus the most definite conclusion to the debate can be that yes there are some intolerant persons in the society and even though they may be loud but they are definitely not significant, both in terms of their content and their numbers, and hence does not represent the tolerance index of the country as a whole.

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