It is the subject these days. No news coverage that does not speak about tolerance or intolerance, depending on whose point of view is looked at. Newspapers devoting ample space debating the subject. Every celebrity worth his salt makes a comment, many bringing religion into the topic. The discussion probably is on during lunch, dinners, trains, offices, WhatsApp groups. Now even the Parliament is debating on it, as it is now a political matter that could win elections.
Definition wise, Intolerance is defined as “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with”. Simple it sounds, simple it appears, not. Whether we are tolerant or not is now subjective, a debatable issue and one that can probably will never get or allowed to be resolved. At least not with the way we have our politicians make us look at it. My note is, is it really this big an issue?
The stalwarts of Free India, or as many media channels rechristened them as “The Founding Fathers”, who struggled for having an India freed of the British, probably only dreamt of an India that was free from the tyranny of the oppressors. They probably were more than happy to be rid of the so called masters who had dictated their destinies for over 200 years. They seemed more excited to now step into a life that they would be of their own making, having the power to define and live a good life. The poverty, the illiteracy, the high rate of population, all these were minor irritants to something that was more precious than anything else on earth. Freedom. No insult of being degraded in your own country. Living as an Indian.
Did we achieve this? For sure we did. Proof of the pudding is the creation of two countries in a span of 24 hours. 2 Countries carved out of one, eventually 3, and what each achieved. One believed in creating a country based on religion, one based on growth, thinking forward, the third a result of war initiated by the one that was built on religion.
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh three countries, whose cultures, styles of living, history are all entwined with each other. One great nation at a time, three independent countries today, one that has grown beyond itself, living on a model of democracy, the other two, seven decades later, still suffering the pangs of dictatorships, military rules, both at many a point, unable to accept the growth of one. Why, even though the splits were deemed as for religion, India never ever tread that path of sticking to one single belief of faith and trampling others. All were equal, all religions will co-exist, and all were part of that great struggle to move beyond.
Success of that belief of not being limited by religion has shown in India’s progress. Great thinkers, great writers, a robust education system, a willingness to move forward and the biggest taker of all however the most important of them all, harmony in life, living together with people from different walks of life, whatever their faiths. Their common bonding: all having fought together for a new life. A new beginning.
Strange then as it may seem and hear that the very people who fought for a new life, today are unable to live in harmony. As one goes through the media, reads the news, hears the politicians, it appears that the country is on the brink of a disaster. Fights on the slightest of whims, rumors starting mini wars, statements on the fly, debates on every channel, celebrities getting scared because they are of a particular religion. Oh God, India is now worse than Pakistan or Syria, or Iraq.
Too much of anything is always bad, and the same can be said of the media. But media aside, are we really intolerant? Have we really lost the patience to live together? Are we insensitive? Or are we simply getting dragged into a vortex of hate that is being created by a few self-centered people that have a different goal? Are we being dragged into fighting for causes that really do not exist? The religious leaders, the celebrities, the politicians, all playing the caste and religion card time and time again only to ensure their permanent space in power and keeping the rest in a permanent state of hate? Are we that gullible and swayed so easy when it is so apparent that we have never fought with ourselves on any issue, unless it has been linked to religion. And that also, incited.
Yes, it sounds and looks dark and scary, but despite the perceived gloom and doom, is that those who incite hatred and divisions are still in the minority. The bulk still believe in the goodness of people, of society in general, of the victory of good over evil. People may not care about their neighbor, but if someone is in trouble, support comes from everywhere.
We become intolerant when a cricket match is lost, we get upset if our film celebrities complain that they are being treated as ordinary citizens when they break the law; we lose our tolerance when our political leaders get arrested for inciting hate speeches; we become totally intolerant if our self-created god-men are arrested for hoarding huge amounts of wealth that was acquired illegally; we do not accept our Government when it does something good, because the party that we support said so.
Ironical that with what we do not tolerate an accusation stands that the country is not a safe place to live, free speech is curtailed, free thinking is stagnated, the country is on a downward spiral because rouge elements are allowed to grow. Looking at what we tolerate:
Corruption by our elected representatives who when they join politics have bank balances in 000’s, but leave with crores. Family dynasties built in politics, even though these are temporary positions. Poor quality of life, poor education, bad judicial systems, yet this is life. Our nationalism comes up on Facebook and WhatsApp when our soldiers are killed by our neighbours, or terrorists strike our cities and yet our elected politicians do nothing. Our environment is destroyed for political gains, our cities deluged with floods every year, no improvement is ever done. Rapes and murders shock us to the core, we light a few candles, life moves on, yet we elect the very leaders who support the criminals perpetrating the crime. Our elected leaders insult women, threaten policemen, treat the very people who protect our country with contempt and as second rate citizens, yet we keep quiet. Actors of other religions make movies where Gods are made fun of, yet no one utters a word. Minority religions are not touched, as they are sensitive and will get upset. Yet we tolerate. Our expectations are simple.
So when some celebrities state that India is intolerant, is unsafe, what are they talking about? Is it simply because they are now in an environment, where people do not accept things blindly? Is it because people challenge the system? Is it because a system that was mired in corruption is now working? Is it because the leadership has changed and that is concentrating more on what the people want, rather than what the celebrities want? Is it due to changing priorities of the government, which gives importance to genuine issues that has people worried? Is it that the Government is teaching people to expect the Government to perform?
The concern, I guess is not whether we are tolerant or not. It is probably, people are not fighting for religion any more. People are accepting each other once more. People are learning to live in peace. That cannot happen.
As Count Armand says in the Legend of Zorro: “America has one weakness. Its people are divided into North and South”. India is divided into more, but what it possesses, no one does, and that is despite being North, South, East, West, they are one. In heart. In soul.