Intolerance is discrimination and lack of faith between people of different gender roles, political parties, social status, religions and so on. A debate has stirred up recently around growing intolerance in India. Intolerance does not necessarily refer to the act of harming someone physically. The mob, which killed an innocent person on suspicion that he was consuming beef, was not only intolerant, but also heinous and barbaric.
Writers and artists have been returning their awards to the government and government-aided institutions to protest growing intolerance in this country. This is their form of self-expression. Some people have questioned this act, asking where were these intellectuals when Rushdie’s book was banned and he was barred from participating in the Kolkata and Jaipur litfests? Why did they not return their awards when Taslima was attacked in Hyderabad or forced to leave India? Do these intellectuals only stand up against hindu extremists? But even if they do, what’s wrong with that? I am against any kind of religious terrorism and intolerance, therefore, if someone prefers to speak out against the barbarism of a particular religion, that’s more than welcome to me. Intellectuals in islamic countries protest against islamic extremism, they don’t speak about the hindus or christians. Every country has minority sympathisers. However, not all minorities are equally helpless. It is solely dependent on their social stratification. Pakistan’s hindu and christian minorities don’t enjoy the same social status as India’s muslims and christians, nor do they enjoy similar freedom. The extent and nature of intolerance of minorities in these two countries are also vastly different. Add to that the number of orthodox preachers among India’s minority religions who are ruining their own communities more than the intolerant among the majority hindus.
Having said that, intolerance has reached a new low in India. Aamir Khan’s concern about his wife thinking of leaving this country has made him the talk of an entire nation. The Shiv Sena has even announced cash reward of Rs 1 lakh for whoever is able to slap Aamir. That reminds me of the imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan mosque who, way back in 1994, announced a Rs 50,000 reward for whoever was able to smear my face with dirt. However, I still don’t place hindu and muslim extremists in the same quadrant. The RSS or the Shiv Sena’s ranting are no match for the mass massacre of innoncents across the globe by the likes ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Laskar-e-Taiba and Al Qaida, though someone did mention that the hindus have still not killed thousands in the name of religion because they have not found the scope to do so; had they got similar opportunity, they too would have been equal threat to civil society.
Intolerant people exist everywhere, be it Europe, America, Africa or Asia. Instead of calling an entire nation intolerant, it is wiser to point out the intolerant bunch in every nation. The constitution of India does not provide for intolerance, neither has the prime minister clapped for the extremist acts of hindu fanatics. Hence, calling the country intolerant makes no sense. Certain citizens have suggested that our prime minister must take note of the Dadri incident and make an attempt to ensure justice to those denied protection. It is not only that the muslims have been singled out in the current hate wave across India. Hindu fanatics have assassinated noted rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. Intolerance has been evident at all times and under the governance of every ruling dispensation, so, why the buzz now?
Hindu extremists live in fear that the muslims would destroy their religion and culture, which will eventually become extinct. Therefore, they are following the same path of the muslim terrorists; killing those who do not subscribe to their religious beliefs. Can religion be preserved this way? Hundreds of powerful religions have become history today, as with the Greeks and the Romans. They don’t exist anymore. Similarly, religions like hinduism, buddhism, judaism, christianity and islam would become extinct some day. Humanity would replace these with new religions that are more tolerant, or people would become more rational and logical.
The only confession that has arisen out of the ongoing debate on intolerance is that a former home minister has accepted that banning Rushdie’s book, back in the 1980s, wasn’t an appropriate decision. Religious intolerance is not only limited to the religious extremists, even the politicians are highly influenced by the same. While West Bengal’s Left Front government originally banned my book, the Trinamool government too recently banned the inauguration of my yet another book at Kolkata Book Fair and a television series based on my script was not allowed to be telecast. I did question the former chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and the present chief minister Mamata Banerjee if they would accept their mistake, just as P Chidambaram of the Congress party has done regarding Rushdie. However, the politicians from Bengal are firm on their stand. This is all about vote bank politics. Nobody wants to take a stand against the sentiments of a fair section of the voters because of election arithmetic.
Intolerance and superstitions walk hand in hand with human consciousness and education. This is how India survives. And this is how the world too survives. Politicians and religious warmongers only look after their own benefits, while pushing the country into the valley of darkness. Only a handful of educated liberals can dare to change the society. It has always been like that.
Human beings are intolerant by nature. Love and hate occupy very strong positions in human psychology. A debate is always welcome, be it in favour of intolerance or against it. A debate makes you think. However, that debate must never give rise to violence. The instinct of violence is deep rooted in our nature. If we succeed in overcoming our thirst for blood, humanity will shine forever.