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MARGINALIA: Caught in the web of culture of intolerance
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
It’s been a hectic week following the growing trajectory of intolerance. From Shahrukh Khan to Kamal Hassan to Ashis Nandy – each one caught in the eye of a storm, exposing yet again the abyss that this civilization is falling into and the perils that exist to democracy and free speech. Intolerance is all around, and strangely since it sells media appropriates the right to tell half truths, sensationalise events and thus exacerbate the intensity of intolerance, the ugliest form of which eventually evinces in violence. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” What a violent lot we must indeed be collectively, in our mindsets, in branding Ashis Nandy anti-Dalit, Kamal Hassan anti-Muslim and Shahrukh Khan as ‘the man who bites the hand that feeds him’! We’ve been so for a long time, revealing impatience to any dissent and difference. Salman Rushdie, for whatever he stands, cannot step on Indian soil. Maqbool Fida Hussain died in an alien land without owning citizenship of this country. And there are the lesser told stories of intolerance, and lesser thought about routinely created cubicles in our minds of ‘us and them’.

An all girls rock band from Kashmir complained of harassment by fringe Islamic fanatics, calling their shows ‘anti-Islamic’. According to one report so pushed to the wall were its musicians that they decided to call it a day, though another report maintained that they had decided to not succumb to such threats. Whatever be their decision, the bottom line is that they continue to face threats for daring to be different. In 2008, both the Valley and Jammu region erupted in violent protests, demonstrating the divisive polity and resulting in damages beyond repair. The trouble was not only sparked by bad politics and mismanagement but more by culture of intolerance. Every action in one part of the state had an equal and opposite reaction in the other. The dominant discourse that stretched the divisive agitation to three months remained the inability to not just understand the perspective on the other side of the Jawahar tunnel but also complete refusal to listen to each other. This intolerance has become the hallmark of the socio-polity of not just this country but the entire world. Though problems and differences exist, the manner in which they flare up, violence consuming everybody’s lives, it is all due to intolerance to listen to each other or even acknowledge that a perspective other than one’s own also exists, leave alone accommodating each other’s point of view. And, this is what gives rise to fascist tendencies. The perpetual India-Pakistan animosity, violence against Shias and other minorities in Pakistan, North East with all the complexities of not just anti-India sentiment but also competing claims in the seven sister states, Gujarat pogrom and revival of heightened violence in Sri Lanka – everything is a manifestation of the culture of intolerance which has become organised, often also state sponsored.

The world’s greatest super power United States long back displayed its authoritarian might and intolerance with its president George Bush’s infamous threat of ‘those who are with us are our friends and those who are not, our enemies’. Intolerance continues to lie at the root of the Bosnia-Serbia divide and the unending violence that keeps Palestine and Israel in news. Last summer, when a film created outrage in the Muslim world, it was the handiwork of an intolerant B-grade filmmaker to have shown Prophet Mohammed in poor light and found an even more violently intolerant response across the world, especially Libya where mobs killed some US embassy officials in retaliation.

The recent incidents of such intolerance need to be mapped in this backdrop of growing culture of intolerance, the ironic inability to even listen to something one does not agree with even as the intolerant continue to vow by democracy that guarantees them the right to free speech. The recent incidents, however, also demonstrate the fragility of the way identity politics cast their shadow on the way people behave. A long time supporter of rights for the marginalised Ashis Nandy is branded anti-Dalit for his remarks, which were perhaps just clumsily put. The great Indian idol, King Khan of Bollywood is eventually seen as a Muslim and in the language of the great Indian fanatic, simply as ‘an extension of Pakistan’, without even realising that such intolerance only ends up vindicating what Shahrukh Khan wrote about - what it means to be a Muslim in democratic, secular India. That the reaction in India should find SRK sympathisers in Pakistan, where intolerance raises its ugly head every now and then, with fanatic lunatics and the obsessive State hounding down the liberals, is no less an irony.

Intolerance evokes a strange vicious cycle. It is unstoppable. It begets more intolerance and functions the same way as the culture of violence does. Gandhi wasn’t wrong while equating intolerance with violence. Both have the same disastrous impact on the society, dehumanising it with strong doses of hatred and rabble rousing, whether in the name of region, religion, country, gender or just anything, robbing it of civility and retarding its progress, which cannot simply be measured in terms of technological advancement or impressive GDPs. It’s a sad prospect indeed!
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News Updated at : Saturday, February 2, 2013
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