Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Intolerance was always there in India.

Now a days there is a lot of debate going on in India about intolerance and tolerance. Some people are claiming that since this new government came in power (in 2014) incidents of intolerance are increasing, they also claim that there is feeling of fear and insecurity among minorities and some intellectuals. Other side is claiming that nothing this sort is happening, rather the very fact that these people are allowed to protest is sign of very tolerant and cohesive environment, some irrelevant fringe groups are mainly responsible for whatever ugly incidents are reported but overall everything is fine. Both sides are busy in attacking each other and proving each other wrong, what a splendid display of tolerance. Another point which is highlighted again and again during all these discussions is that India was and still is a very tolerant society. I really don't know what is the real basis of this claim but surprisingly both sides agree to this particular point, the only point of disagreement is whether it is becoming intolerant now or not? History of Indian civilization is very old and one can go and try to understand whether it was a historically a tolerant society or not. I am not interested in that aspect of this argument, I can only talk about what I saw and experienced personally during my life in India. As far as my personal experience is concerned I never saw very tolerant atmosphere during 30 years of my life in India. I always feel surprised when someone claims that India is a very tolerant society, may they have some different definition of 'tolerant' but at least I never experienced it. Now before people jump on to attack me personally and label me as anti-India or anti-Hindu or traitor or whatever other name they want to use to display their tolerant nature let me first explain why I say this.

Any tolerant society is sensitive to the needs and rights of all sections of society and by all sections I am not talking about all religions, castes, etc. which dominate Indian political discussion forums. I am talking about kids, teenagers, men, women, disabled people, majority, all types of minorities, etc. I never saw that sensitivity in appreciable levels and still don't see it, till recently transgenders were forced to live in closet, women are still struggling to get equal status and share, caste is very important factor in marriage and politics, one can list many factors here but I guess readers mush have got my point. Now let me continue with my personal experiences as I base my statement mainly based on my personal experience. As a kid punishments for mistakes in school were very brutal and physically abusive. I am sure any one who went to school in 1980s and 1990s can confirm this point. Getting slapped by teacher was not a big deal, getting hit by stick, duster, ruler was very common phenomena. Even outside the school situation was not much different, it was considered as birthright of parents to smack their kids as much they want and for whatever reason they feel appropriate. As a kid it was normal to get snubbed by elders for asking any uncomfortable question. Any sort of dissent was not encouraged from weaker sections and I don't think this is a sign of any tolerant society. One could not dare to question many traditions and rituals without being getting verbally or worst physically reprimanded. Obedience was considered as a virtue and dissent was openly ridiculed. So these were some of the things which I experienced or witnessed as a kid. I am sure there might be exceptions to this and there might be some people specially with very privileged background who lived in totally different social atmosphere but whatever I described above was in general environment around me and many others. People must have realized that I am talking about poor or lower middle class section of society which constituted very large section of Indian population back then and I think it is still significant in numbers. Even as a teenagers we knew that friendship and all is OK but we can't marry outside our caste without disturbing our parents or other members of family. Tension between various religions and occasional violent communal riots are still a possibility, all these things used to make me wonder where is that tolerance about which I hear on every intellectual forum? Fights between supporters of different political parties were very common, there used to be fights during processions during different religious festivals like Ganeshotsav and that too many times between two mandals on trivial issues like who should get to go first in line. It was and still is very trivial to Call someone anti national or traitor or Pakistani (this word is used as abuse specially for anyone who is a Muslim or says anything in support of them). Books are frequently banned, movies land in trouble for hurting some group's sentiments, paintings and painters are troubled for creating some objectionable art, authors are attacked for writing something offensive or derogatory to someone, moral policing was very common and still happens to some extend even today. Many of these things are still part of public behavior, we can see these things even in social media and still we Indians don't hesitate to call ourselves very tolerant!

But there must be some reason why most Indians claim that our country is very tolerant. One reason might be India did not invade any country in recent history or may be by claiming to be tolerant many of these people mean 'less violent' compared to some neighboring countries. It is quite possible that 'tolerant' means at least we don't kill each other as frequently as some other societies do. May be there is some truth in this line of argument even though frequent incidents of communal riots don't support this claim very well but this might be the major reason for making this claim. But for me this is not good enough to declare any society as a tolerant society and anyways those standards of those countries are not worth to follow for a country like India if it really aspires to become a super power with such a diverse population. It needs to show more inclusive behavior than merely being less violent or better than some of our neighbors. Intolerance was always there in India, sometimes it is more visible than other time that's the only difference. So I really feel strange about this debate of India becoming intolerant now, please at least let me know when was it very tolerant? If anyone is willing to explain it to me then I am willing to listen and please restrict time span to last 40-50 years not more than that. I can definitely talk about last 30 years or so based on my personal experience and I hope others also share with me their own experience not some theoretical rhetoric with no proof or logic.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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