Friday, May 4, 2007

Are we becoming a more intolerant society?


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Lately we see a lot of news reports about acts of intolerance all around the globe. By intolerance I don’t mean religious intolerance alone. It is the absence of tolerance for people who express opinions or beliefs that are different from what you feel. Please do not confuse it with disagreement either. Everyone has the right to agree or disagree with another’s viewpoint. But when your disagreement reaches such a level, that it turns into hostile and aggressive behavior to the person expressing a different point of view then we are becoming intolerant.

India is a country which prides on its unity in diversity. But how unified are we really? We are divided on the lines of languages, religion, and caste, and now even on political affiliations and views. Our unity relies upon the thin line that separates tolerance from fanaticism. What we see now is that thin line getting even thinner by the day.

We now have states (remember that our states were drawn up based on linguistic boundaries) where outsiders are harassed in the name of protecting the local culture and language. So we see patriotism being replaced by regionalism. There are states in India who have their own flags which are seen more prominently in that state than even the national flag. Shopkeepers and other such small businessmen are harassed and their properties vandalized because they have their boards in English alone and not in the local language. It has reached such an extreme that anytime there is a dispute with a neighboring state, people resort to such ridiculous forms of protest as banning that region’s channels and vandalizing the cinema halls which show movies in that region’s language.

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Matters have reached such a head that these so called ‘activists’ of the local language tried to stop the screening of a soft porn movie dubbed in the local language because they found that the actors’ lip moment was not matching the dialogues. There was quite a ruckus in front of the cinema hall creating a tense situation. The tension was resolved and the crowd dispersed only when a witty and clever police officer asked, “Who watches or even listens to the dialogues of this movie”!!!

Our political parties are not showing any grand example of tolerance either. There is a cadre party in Kerala who throws out their own members at the drop of a hat. Even the slightest bit of criticism or cynicism is met with a strong response in the name of maintaining party discipline. Forgive my ignorance, but I thought in a democratic set up everyone has a right to express their own opinion. Decisions are supposed to be taken after the fruitful conclusion of a debate. But more basically for a debate to happen there has to be two differing views. If you silence all opposing views then you are robbing yourself from the chance of having an alternate maybe even a more pragmatic approach.

Cultural intolerance is also on the rise as illustrated by the uproar over Richard Gere – Shilpa Shetty kissing incident. The uproar and the subsequent protests was shameful because it not only showed our intolerance but also our hypocritical attitude towards sex (remember we are still in 2nd position as far as population goes. Not to forget that we were the ones who gave Kamasutra to the world).

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Religious intolerance has reached such a crescendo that even the silliest of reasons is enough to send a mob into a violent fury. In most cases these mobs and the violence which erupt thereafter are instigated by some factionalist political parties or organizations that have their own vested interests. A case in point is the recent attack on the Star News channel office just because the channel showed a story about a Muslim boy eloping with a Hindu girl. Again some so called protectors of culture went on a rampage at the channel’s office destroying everything and beating up everyone who stood in their way.

Religious intolerance and its resultant violence are not just limited to India alone. The current global epidemic of terrorism is a direct byproduct of intolerance. The fundamentalists are intolerant of the beliefs, the standard of living and even the lifestyle of the west. And it is this intolerance more than anything that drives them to do such acts of terror. They should show the basic respect for the beliefs of others which they do not believe in.

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Intolerance of other ethnic groups and immigrant communities are also on the rise throughout the west. The recent violence in Paris is a direct outcome of this. Violence against gays and homosexuals are also on the rise. Our intolerance for people whose sexual orientation is different from ours has been simmering for quite some time now. A person has the right to choose the partner he wishes to. And if both partners are happy in their choice, then who are we to object to the way they live their lives.

We should all remember that the other person too has the same rights that we have. He has the same right to make the choices he wants to make, the same right to express his opinion and the same right to live according to his beliefs. As long as his rights don’t violate the rights of others none of us should have a problem with it.

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Some of the readers of this post may not agree with the views we have stated here. You are welcome to post you comments here. You can criticize, vilify or ridicule us. Hell, you can even shred this post to pieces. We will humbly accept that. Because then it is a disagreement and you have the right to express your opinion. And we will show the tolerance to hear your opinions and maybe try and clarify our position a bit more. But please do not hack into this blog and vandalize it or bomb Google’s datacenters because then it becomes intolerance. And that’s what we have been trying to put across all along.


Dominic said...

It's interesting to see your commentary on intolerance in India. While the problem is certainly not limited to your country alone, it's not often that people in the West think of the East in those terms. With typical self-centredness, North Americans assume that we're the most intolerant people on the globe, while countries like India get sold to us as seats of learning and spiritual enlightenment.
The current state of the world seems to engender intolerance as a defense mechanism. I think that if we could learn to be more active and less reactive, we could take a broader view on things.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I read so much about Kerala from the mouth of Amartya Sen.
About the intolerance, don't worry too much, most of the things you have described can be seen in Spain as well.

Take care.

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Anonymous said...

Great, great, great! Fantastic article. I hope everybody reads this.

s_k said...

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silverine said...

Fret not. These mobs are an apathetic citizenry on the rolls of vested interests. They will rampage and burn effigies for a fee. If you ask them what they are protesting, they will say what the American traveller is famed to have said. "if it is Tuesday then we must be protesting the Shetty-Gere Kiss". :p

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MorganLighter said...

I agree with Dominic's comment. I live in the U.S. When I read/hear about the atrocities that are going on all over the world, it just amazes me how we evolved into such a state. I would like you to read a poem, written by e.e.cummings. The last two lines of the last stanza are:
"King Christ this world is all aleak
and life preservers there are none".

Vidooshak said...

great article! i hope everyone reads this and gets SOME sense :-)

unfortunately, the kind of people who read these blogs are usually the kind who are a VICTIM of this effigy burning and intolerance. we need to find a way to help them see, who act dangerously due to their blinkered vision

and yes, this phenomena is global. hardly restricted to India anymore...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I didn't realise the societies of other nations were as and more intolerant than the one I'm in (well, actually I did ;))

The trouble is the people, as Vidooshak said, who readm about it aren't the ones who perpetrate it.

Hypocrites fill the world. My parents for instance.