We are world's largest democracy, yet can't tolerate others

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Today is the International Day for Tolerance. But how much tolerant are we actually today? We speak about democracy and other noble ideas but on the ground, there is a sense that this world is turning increasingly intolerant with each passing day. An era of unlimited democracy, it seems, has really given a licence to abuse and overuse 'our' individual freedom, only at the expense of belittling 'their' intellect and sentiment.

International Day for Tolerance

We speak about violence in Syria and other parts of west Asia, the Israeli aggression against Palestine or the Chinese suppression of Tibetan aspirations, Sri Lankan government targetting Tamils, Taliban depriving women and children of education and welfare and every other aspect of violent treatment meted out to the vulnerable sections of the society.

How much tolerant are we, the world's biggest democracy?

But when we look at our own country, how much tolerant are we despite claiming ourselves to be the biggest democracy in the world? Why do our own people from northeast run back home at the slightest provocation? Why the violence in Assam continues to haunt the local people even today and why those in power don't find a permanent solution to this? The tradition of riots has continued in this 'secular' country even many years after independence. We thought by cutting off the affected parts of the body (Pakistan and Bangladesh), we will remain happier than ever. But we have not.


Protest against anti-Sikh riots of 1984

Over 3,000 Sikhs were slaughtered in Delhi and around following the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star.

Fanatics agitate on the roads in a city in Gujarat

The riots that had started in February 2002, after some Hindu Kar Sevaks were charred in a train fire, saw killing of nearly 800 Muslims and many Hindus.

Army personnel douse fire at a house in Assam in July 2012

Violence broke out between Bodos and Muslim groups in Assam's Kokrajhar district. Seventy-seven people were killed while thousands lost their homes. The violence is yet to die down completely.

Northeastern people wait for train in Bangalore to return home

Several thousands of north-eastern people left Bangalore and other parts of the country after rumours spread that they would be attacked by Muslims. This was after a Muslim protest took place in Mumbai against the attack on minorities in Assam.

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils stand in queues in front of a food distribution truck

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils stand in queues in front of a food distribution truck at a camp for the internally displaced at Manik Farm in Vavuniya.

Syrian army attacks a village in the country

Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa.

Taliban militants at a rally in Pakistan

Taliban militants are conspiring to kidnap high-ranking civil and security officials from all over the country to force the Pakistani government to release the family of slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Car explosion in Gaza City

People look at a wreckage of the car in which was killed Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing in Gaza City. The Israeli military said its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.

Is India turning increasingly illiberal?

India is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy. The secular leadership, that was given by the first-generation leaders and which was a big necessity for this multicultural nation to survive, has found itself undergoing erosion with each generation. Today, the blatant display of identity politics to win control over the democratic power mechanism has divorced democracy from popular welfare.

We have mastered the art of elevating the status of our own group(s), primarily the majoritarian, by bashing the minorities --- whether linguistic, religious or regional and this has only widened the chasm in a fragmented nation. The nationalistic forces in each corner of the nation have hindered the national integration and nation-building, which can only be accomplished by means of intellectual and moral solidarity, the terms that the Preamble to the Constitution of the UNESCO, which was adopted on Nov 16, 1945, mentions in relation to peace.

Unfortunately for India, the leaders who ruled for a better part of history lacked both intellectual and moral integrity and led the nation on the path of peril. A big setback for India was, in my mind, the linguistic reorganisation of the constituent states. It was a blunder committed by the founding fathers, albeit under self-destroying threats made by the agitators. Why was an internal division of the country allowed even while we were speaking about a Union of India?

Linguist division of states did more harm than good

Linguist division of states, instead of settling issues peacefully, has fuelled sub-nationalism in this country and allowed provincial politicians to practice the detrimental identity politics and hence the intolerance. Today, many states are found to be engaging with others in a way as two countries do on the international stage while a weaker Union government adopts an evasive stand. Governments don't encourage dialogues to settle issues as political ideologies fed by negative feelings sustain themselves through animosity. We speak about settling a multi-layered Kashmir problem when we can't solve a domestic river-water sharing problem.

When our social forefathers had spoken on the survival strategy of the human society, they had highlighted the idea of a 'social contract'. Ages later, when we claim that our socio-political journey has matured with the advent of the age of democracy and liberalism, we find ourselves guilty of forgetting the very basics of human survival. Humanity is a forgotten word today and it is just the opportunism for political and socio-economic elevation that has come to define our style of living.

Self-proclaimed and proud Hindus even a bigger threat

Many of us in the country feel proud to be a Hindu, although I don't know how this terribly-fragmented religious identity aspire to be a homogenous one in contemporary India. Most of today's fashionable and self-proclaimed Hindus think they are a homogenous entity by the fact that they only know to bash anything non-Hindu.

The blind faith and its promoters have basically, what a noted historian has said, reproduced the ideology of the Islamic state and that is an irony. They feel those who do not believe in their 'monolithic faith' should be tolerated only to the point of obeying it. If the line is crossed, then God save you. I don't know which script of Hindu teachings impart such lessons. Mahatma Gandhi would have felt ashamed to be a Hindu today had he seen this new breed of 'protectors' of Hindu faith.

Our enemies wanted us to become intolerant and we became

We have basically become what our enemies wanted us to become, i.e., equally intolerant. Forces like globalisation have only facilitated the culture of intolerance. Foreign residents who believe in a particular faith are more influenced by the extremist overtones for they feel that only an assertive movement, whether religious, ethnic or in any other form, can help their motherland to get rid of all evils.

New Media an ideal medium for intolerant elements

Monetary help flows accordingly while social network or the New Media act as a suitable medium for promoting rigid viewpoints. The New Media has some advantages. First, it has no geographic limitations unlike mainstream media and secondly, it yet does not have a code of ethics. Anyone can abuse anyone and yet can get away.

The intolerant abusers, who are popularly termed 'Internet Hindus' nowadays, do not speak against child exploitation or torture against women, which are other intolerant activities that plague our society today but only feel elated when there is a chance of bashing up minorities. They feel disgusted when Tamils are targetted in Sri Lanka but keep quiet even when innocent children are being torn apart in Syria.

Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles of Tolerance says Education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance. But the perpetrators of terrorism and hatred in the world today are mostly educated and wise men. Our education also not above suspicion today.

What day of tolerance are we celebrating?

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