Monday, November 30, 2015

Much ado about intolerance

Call me stupid, if you will (WHAT? You do not need an invitation? You would do it anyway?), but I really did not understand what this brouhaha about intolerance was all about. I mean, humanity has always been intolerant. Comes of climbing down from trees but not leaving all the animal instincts behind, I suppose (that one, specifically, of fearing strangers). Anyone, who is not one of 'us', has always been an 'outsider' with his every action, that does not conform, an affront. Anywhere in the world, the polite people refrain from voicing it, the less polite express it and the fringe elements express it with physical violence. Truly tolerant people are an insignificant minority, or that is what I believed. It was a rude shock to me to wake up one day and find that the world was, actually, an ocean of tolerance with India the lone outpost of intolerance.

Even more shocking was the discovery that we had not always been intolerant. True, the adherents of every religion have, at some time or the other, been massacred by the adherent of some other religion (in modern times) and, to vary the monotony, castes have clashed with castes and communities with communities but, apparently, we were a lot more tolerant in those days than we are now. Everyone says so - intolerance in increasing, I believe. (Ah! Puhleeze! I am NOT, I repeat, NOT political and I speak not of who spreads intolerance and who does not. Those you can discuss elsewhere on social media, thank you).

BUT...there is a bit of confusion there. Everyone makes a lot of noise about increasing intolerance in India. And, then, says that if one complains about the PM and his governance, it should not be given the color of insulting India. I am easily confused and this confuses me all the more. I mean, is it increasing intolerance in India that is the problem here (which means you are effectively calling Indians intolerant and increasingly so) OR is it the behavior of government that is the point at issue here (which means that you are saying that the government is, by its silence or actions, encouraging the fanatic fringe)? On the one hand, you may claim that Indians are no more or less tolerant than the rest of the world BUT the government is ending up giving a free hand to the fanatic fringe to impose its will on Society. On the other hand, you claim that Indians are more intolerant than the rest of the world. Which is it? If the former, what is all this 'increasing intolerance in India' crap, which paints Indians as more intolerant than the rest of the world? If it is the latter, then why give the false impression that changing governments will suddenly convert this country into a haven of tolerance?

Yeah! I know - you will jump in saying 'Both', though how THAT fact gets established by a few criminals acting violently in some incidents, I cannot fathom. It is not as though such has not happened elsewhere in the world. Whatever statistics are out there do not seem sufficient to prove that the incidents of intolerance must be a consequence of both the government encouraging the fanatic fringe as well as an increasing number of intolerant Indians. If your argument that the government is, in some way, responsible for such incidents happening frequently (and I have yet to see convincing statistical evidence to prove such is the case. Yeah, I agree that Dadri and other such heinous crimes are unforgivable but if you will insist on 'increasing' intolerance, you automatically invite mathematics to the party), then isn't it obvious that the same percentage of fanatics can lead to more incidents and it is not necessary for Indians to be more intolerant as a people than anyone else? Sweeping generalizations based on insufficient data is rhetoric, not analysis, and when intellectuals take recourse to rhetoric, they cease to use intelligence.

Then I am informed that when the Khans of Bollywood made comments about intolerance, the reactions were intolerant; that people just did not seem to respect their freedom of speech. This freedom of speech is yet another thing that escapes my feeble comprehension. The chaps who retaliated against the Khans with the risible 'Go to Pakistan' sort of comments get called 'morons' and 'assholes' by those who opposed their opinion. Which would probably result in the former (the tourist agents for Pakistan) accusing the latter of not respecting THEIR freedom of expression and so on and so forth. After a point, all that I can glean is that everyone who agrees with my opinion, regardless of how he expresses it, should have his freedom of expression respected, and anyone who disagrees better be VERY polite about it, indeed, lest he be accused of being against freedom of expression.

Ah! No! I am NOT in favor of rude people in general. The point I am trying to make is that, as long as all these expressions are verbal and the original speaker is not legally constrained, freedom of expression is safe. In a social media where "What an imbecilic idea" seems to be the most polite version of what used to be "I disagree", I have learned to parse most of these things to "I am opposed to that statement". Strangely, though, the ones who are accustomed to disagreeing in more unrestrained phrases are the ones who read intolerance into every such utterance by others. True, there IS always a fanatic fringe which really does mean to be intolerant (AND, where such utterances have been made and the person known, does anyone really believe that THAT person is representative of Indian society?). If, say in the USA, someone makes a statement that can even remotely be construed to be anti-American, does anyone seriously think that the social media responses will not have a similar dose of high-decibel nonsense? So, whence comes this nonsense of 'intolerant India' based on the reactions to the Khans?

There has, most certainly, been increasing TALK about intolerance. AND the worst of it is that it is all said in an intolerable manner. I am reminded of that cruel childhood game where one gets after the other saying, "Do not be angry." The chap, who was not angry, says, "No, I am not angry." The instigator says, "Then why are you glaring? You are angry." Again the victim demurs. The other than says, "See. You are shouting." The victim then screams, "No! I AM NOT." THAT, in effect, is what we seem to be doing to ourselves now. Keep talking about intolerance, and in this sort of high decibel manner, and you will ensure that even the people, who felt secure here, will start feeling victimized AND the others get angry with the 'victims' for being unjustly accused (Such, indeed, are the vagaries of human nature. The ones who mouth off for their sixty seconds of fame are seldom blamed). What, in psychology, is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Are there intolerant people, intolerant organizations in India? Certainly, yes. Do I wish India were a more tolerant nation, as tolerant as it has been reputed to be throughout ancient and medieval history? Certainly, yes. Is India today intolerant, any more than the average nation in the world? Maybe but, as yet, I have not seen any rational evidence establishing it one way or the other, unless I should count screaming loudly about it in media and sweeping generalizations as rational evidence.

Yes - there IS increasing intolerance. Intolerance to differing opinions, intolerance to being rational - to the extent that we prefer seeing the facts in only the manner that buttresses our opinion - and, above all, an intolerant and outright rude manner of expressing our opinions, which shrieks, "You dare not oppose me." When intellectuals take recourse to this sort of behavior it shall not be long before even the most tolerant of societies turns intolerant. And THAT seems to apply to ALL the world, not just India.

When you want a tolerant society, you preach tolerance and act tolerant. You do not bring about a tolerant society merely by agitating against perceived intolerance and acting intolerant yourself.

19 comments:

  1. The ultimate verdict on India' s past tolerance and its present intolerance is finally one that is mandated by media and it in turn is remote controlled by whom?! The average working Indian is only concerned with his daily life and how to go about it. Its only the remainder population that has time to ponder, debate and dig out controversies and make a hullabulla of it! Does it matter to a daily-wager, who returned what award? Yes I agree, much ado about intolerance! Time to switch channels, to more constructive matters :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A media intent on speaking of such matters in a polarized manner can end up creating a schism which did not exist before they started harping on it. The faultlines exist in the very fact that there are differences in social behavior of people and the media seems intent on widening the faultlines to chasms.

      Delete
  2. A British MP said it best during an interview with some TV journalist. I am paraphrasing him here - "the truth is that those societies which are most tolerant are most deeply anguished over the issue of intolerance, even a smallest incident takes on such huge proportions in such socieities!" I think this says pretty much everything :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. But the noise levels seem to have gone beyond mere breast-beating and seems to be creating a fear psychosis now.

      Delete
    2. I agree. The media's irresponsible fanning of such irresponsible comments by influential celebrities is terrible. The one positive from all this is that more and more people are losing trust in the mainstream media. On some level it isn't worth getting happy about, but unless the mainstream media goes through a serious self-reflection process and mends its ways, they may soon become redunant at least in the public consciousness.

      Delete
    3. I wish they would AND that social media or whatever takes its place acts more responsibly. The one thing that really worried me was the lack of ONE single sober voice that acted ONLY to inform/assess the facts instead of trying to push an agenda.

      Delete
  3. Your last line sums it up all. Plus why must we react to every comment and get sucked in this vicious cycle where intolerance becomes a political football. There are idiots on both sides.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is when idiots push everyone off center-stage and hold court that Society gets into trouble, Alka

      Delete
    2. I think Aamir Khan really showed himself as an idiot by raking up the whole debate when it has almost died out. And the way he did that by bringing a private conversation into public, the venue he chose to do it at, the whole thing was simply irresponsible. One idiot is enough! Who needs three?

      Delete
    3. Alka, Amir Khan is not your run of the mill celebrity whose words could have been ignored. Nor should they be ignored. He is the brand ambassador of Indian tourism, and that's why the world listens to what he has to say. I could even argue that he chose to stay silent in Phase I of this silly fabricated debate because he was looking for a "special" and "exclusive" controversy-fest, all for himself and he got that when he raked up the whole thing again with his one highly irresponsible comment, by bringing a private conversation between a couple into public. That was the one spark needed.

      Delete
    4. In a way, I agree with you Beloo. People who aspire to be or are considered to be thought leaders of society - as Aamir is, specifically after his Satyamev Jayete - need to exercise more care in what they say, because they will be held to higher standards than the man on the street. Much like a comment about 'appropriate dress for women' would only invite a scornful look in a restaurant debate but fury if it is said by a PM or a religious leader or, for that matter, Aamir.

      Delete
  4. Your write up is timely. I endorse all your arguments. Clearly the opposition parties are hell bent on derailing the government's development agenda. Today's Parliament session was so frustrating to the viewer.It's a meaningless time wasting tactic,which proves my above argument!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Agree with you, Sureshji.
    All this sudden intolerance debate & brouhaha has tarnished our India's image.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yeah, what you have told is right. But we practice intolerance either we know or don't in our life. We actually saturated with intolerance since we raised.

    ReplyDelete