Amartya Sen famously celebrated the ‘Argumentative’ Indian. However, the Indian no longer remains Argumentative. He is fast losing civility of argument. The Indian is fast becoming Intolerent.
I am a staunch secular and a proud democrat. I speak as voraciously against the dynastic politics and sycophantic culture of the Congress as I speak against the moral blindness and unsustainability of RSS-BJP politics to the Idea of India. I don’t hide under the patriotic veil of scoundrels, as the famous saying goes, but am a strong humanist and welfarist.
Having confessed so, I am pained and distressed by the rise of the Intolerant Indian. But I am pained more so by the unwillingness of the Party in Power to act and speak, living up to its constitutional role, than continue donning its ideological robes and sit by the sidelines to watch the fun.
So what is the legacy of the BJP, RSS, VHP and ABVP in context of intolerance? The unprecedented rise of fringe elements is not isolated in history, neither is the hooliganism of the Sena. The above four organizations have always been intolerant, pre and post 2014.
These organizations have at multiple occasions engaged in getting books banned, vandalizing cinema theatres featuring movies going against their “culture”, extolling communal fires and defending these assaults on freedom. Even as of now, a documentary on Muzzaffarnagar faces an unofficial censure by the ABVP which does not permit its screening. From Yogi Adityanath and SakshiMaharaj to Praveen Togadia and Giriraj Singh, who occupy important posts in the Party and the Government, BJP leaders have assaulted freedoms of all categorizations more than once.
Intolerance is the function of this larger effort to impose homogeneity and engineer standards of belief systems to exact mass compliance which eternally threatens freedom to think and express. Any expression that contradicts these standards is framed as ‘anti-national’. Any idea that refuses to confirm to their narrow perceptions of our collective culture deserves to then, be banned, obliterated and silenced. They keep repeating the cliché; freedom has constraints, not ever quite understanding either freedom or the true meaning of reasonable constraint. One is entitled to his freedom so long as he does not infringe on that of the other. Equal respect for all religions forbids a Muslim from forcing beef down a Brahmin’s throat, (if beef eating were assumed to be disrespectful of Hindu culture). It does not permit the Brahmin to prevent a Muslim from engaging in its consumption.
The ultimate aim of Hindurashtra also seethes with intolerance, for it is an aim that seeks to formalize the above mentioned homogeneity, purge the Hindu brotherhood of all perceived ‘Western’ influence, and impose a definition to Hinduism which no one ever authorized/voted for them to prepare in the first place. It seeks to place the sole Hindu identity superior to all other identities, religious and otherwise. It refuses to accept the pluralistic nature of identity and the diversity of culture. Irony is what best describes their conflicting narratives-India represents ‘Unity in Diversity’, they say, but must be ‘100% Hindu’.
The dictionary describes intolerance as the unwillingness to accept differing opinion-accept, not endorse. Isn’t the behavior of India’s right so fitting to this definition? Engagement in civil, respectful debate and discussion is repeatedly handicapped by this ‘heckle the speaker’, ‘ban the book’, ‘label him sickular’ approach. Probably the best place to observe the vitiation and pollution of public discourse is Facebook pages where all sorts of absolutely offensive and degrading abuses are hurled onto any differing voice.
Several social forces act upon an individual when she makes a choice-the choice, thus, is never truly free. Formal social pressures refer to pressures that are backed by law, while informal social pressures are those that do not enjoy legislative support. Our polity is still fortunately free from excessive formal social pressures that obstruct free expression, but informal social pressures are on the rise, and their deterrence power is often undermined. The state has become ineffectual in countering these negative pressures. When a person’s right to free expression is threatened, the state buckles under pressure and encourages intolerant elements by calling upon the subject to restrain inherent rights, than guarantee him protection to discourage intolerance and facilitate his exercise of his entitlements. This is what forms a major barrier to the fearless exercise of constitutional entitlements and emboldens the intolerant. This trend has precedent. The Congress Government banned the Satanic Verses and restricted Salman Rushdie’s participation at Jaipur Literature Festival and stayed inactive as Penguin buckled under RSS pressure to pulp Wendy Doniger’s book. The state showed similar inaction when ABVP activists threatened disruption to prevent a noted speaker, SheetalSathye, from participating in an academic discussion at St. Xavier’s College, by labeling her ‘anti-national’ (and even expression critical of the nation does deserve equal freedom of speech) on unproven allegations of her being a Naxalite. The discussion concerned, was on caste and untouchability.
However, what characterizes today’s times is the active participation of government elements and high elements of the party in power that gets away with crass displays of intolerance and hatred.
Mr. Giriraj Singh determined that all opposers of Mr. Modi must pack their bags and head to Pakistan and was rewarded with a seat in the Council. Mr. Yogi Adityanath got away with asking those not performing Yoga to leave India. SakshiMaharaj got away with making speeches where he used the imagined threat of Muslim dominance to ask Hindu parents to produce four children per family. Mr. Tarun Vijay wrote a deplorable article in the Indian Express where he fell to the extent of hinting that had Mohammad Akhlaq been lynched after actually consuming beef, it probably would have been justifiable for an act. The same, unlawful, cold-blooded murder was called an ‘accident’ by MPs of the ruling party who faced no consequences at all. Almost every BJP leader is convinced of the need for a Hindurashtra.
Notice one thing. No one ever blackened any of their faces, or heckled them, abused them and threatened organizations planning to invite them as speakers. This is what tolerance is all about. I have the right to persuade, not threaten and coerce. I have the right to peaceful protest, not to heckle and get their books banned and pulped. DinanathBatra has been writing for a while and his writings have so many critics. Were his books ever pulped?
This unfortunate trend also brings attention to the moral blindness of the BJP, a moral blindness that encourages its leaders to make the most stone hearted of statements-remember VK Singh’s dog rant, or Mahesh Sharma’s royal defense of Akhlaq’s murderers? Under such circumstances, when integral elements of the party and the government are given free rein to proceed with their activities, how can Modiji dissociate the Centre from this vitiated atmosphere? A Prime Minister, who tweets at blood clot surgeries of cricketers doesn’t see the need to express horror at the multiple sacrifices that the Holy Cow is being offered these days? And when he does speak, after being shamed into doing so by a desperate and wise President, he makes an outrageous show of absolutely negating any moral or other responsibility by reminding us of law and order being a state subject. The vitiation and communal polarization which is being nationally carried out by his leaders is certainly not a state subject, is it?
Whether turn of events reflects the powerlessness of the Prime Minister before the ideological will of his Party cadres or indicates Government complicity, one never knows. Either is as bad for the people.
It is in response to these events taken together, that the authors have spoken. They are decorated with charges of hypocrisy and publicity-seeking, two very easy means of escape and aversion. That the intelligence of the writers has encouraged action now has a reason. The assault of intolerance is not isolated, or concentrated over a place or incident. It is increasingly becoming the rule than the exception, and is wielded as a weapon to deter dissent by elements of the government that go unpunished. That which the government disagrees with is informally or formally censured, like non-suspecting NGOs and RTI activists. The authors, whose fundamental profession rests on free expression, find this intolerant atmosphere too claustrophobic to think and speak in. That fringe elements must feel emboldened enough to celebrate the murder of rationalists represents the failure of the state.
Far from reassuring the writers by getting a senior minister to simply state: We shall try our best to prevent the spread of this plague, the government has labeled this act of courage ‘manufactured’ dissent. Even this insult hurled at authors of international repute is evidence of intolerance towards dissent.
It is true that the rise of majoritarianism and intolerance in the face of government denial is a massive setback to Mr. Modi’s ‘development’ agenda. However, this setback does not defeat in intensity and magnitude the massive intrinsic blunder that this assault is going to precipitate on our founding values and principles.
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ABVP Amartya Sen BJP Congress india RSS VHP