Friday, November 6, 2015

Is Intolerance rising in India ?

The current meme in India : "Intolerance is rising" is if nothing else a very interesting debate. Many of India's prominent "intellectuals" are criticising the Modi government of encouraging, abetting and / or turning a blind eye to a series of violent acts that have happened in the country over the last few months (or years). There is a furious ongoing debate and a counter movement on to prove that India is tolerant. With the really long drawn and tiring Bihar elections as the backdrop, these have been terribly polarized times to be in India. It is fair to say that both sides are "having a moment".

Meanwhile, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz came together to co-author titled "Islam and the Future of Tolerance",  a book to have a dialogue about Islam, Islamism etc. "Is Islam a religion of peace ? " - is the subject of long running debates now. For instance take this debate from 2010 (probably) in which Maajid Nawaz participates to support the motion - Islam is a Religion of Peace. It seems that a post debate - dinner spat between Harris and Nawaz was the starting point to them collaborating on this book a few years later.

Maajid Nawaz's answer now is simple and makes sense:  Islam is neither a religion of peace nor a religion of war. It is simply a religion, and one that has been subject to many different interpretations over the centuries, and is still refracted in lots of different ways.

And so, if someone asks "Is India a Tolerant Country" or "Is India an Intolerant Country" this can also be answered similarly. It is neither tolerant nor intolerant. It is a country that has many different types of people with diverse opinions, who look at their identities in many different ways.

To explain further, I am not trying to compare Islam & it's problems with tolerance with the current debate in India. But the point is that to define entities like a religion or a nation-state / country in binary terms is very difficult and merely being convenient to your current political position.

Beyond the debate of communalism vs selective outrage & hypocrisy, it is true that an "India is Intolerant" narrative could become a self fulfilling prophecy. In a county where for the media, narrative trumps over data, this is even more likely.

Amidst the deluge of Op-Eds and articles, this one paragraph from V Anantha Nageswaran's article  was perhaps the one that I was able to relate the best personally.

And so, now that we know what is the game of the other side, it becomes imperative for the BJP to continue to increase it's rainbow social coalition across the country and reach out to more people with a more optimistic and positive message. I believe that it is well worth the effort for the BJP (despite the unlikely possibility of electoral gains) and the Sangh, to make efforts to reach across to minorities and strive for social cohesion proactively, without the arbitration and mediation of India's secular ayatollahs.

Economic progress, Law & Order and Justice are the only silver bullets available for a diverse country like India to maintain the peace. Education & Healthcare, too cannot be sacrificed at the altar of fiscal prudence. If we know that at least one side wants the nation to progress and stay united, a positive message for social cohesion at the grassroots level is well worth the effort. Ultimately , the oped vs oped game,  the news channel debate and Twitter & Facebook fights have limited utility. An exemplary record and a positive atmosphere is a worthy target to strive for.

"Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" was a laudable goal to strive for, it is time to concentrate on all three words of this slogan equally. 

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