Across the Aisle: The rise and rise of intolerance

Today, in some parts of India, if a Hindu (boy or girl) is friendly with a Muslim (girl or boy), they are visited with grave consequences.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: September 6, 2015 12:07 pm
Across the Aisle, P Chidambaram, Chidambaram, The rise and rise of intolerance, prejudices, discrimination, oppression, violence, Saint Ramanuja, E V Ramasamy, Periyar, Mahatma Phule, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, P Chidambaram column, indian express column, indian express news Rising intolerance, inevitably, reveals its violent nature.

Among the many myths about Indian society is an ancient one — that we are, and have always been, a tolerant society. It is an old yarn to cover the prejudices, discrimination, oppression and violence that have, unfortunately, marked our history.

The intolerance is most pronounced when it comes to matters concerning identity — not religious identity alone, but every kind of strongly-believed identity such as caste, gotra, language, region etc.

Celebrate reformers, junk reforms

We celebrate the life of a Saint Ramanuja or an E V Ramasamy (“Periyar”) or a Mahatma Phule or a Raja Ram Mohan Roy. We hold out their lives as examples of how a tolerant Indian society allowed them large space to propagate their views while we conveniently forget the fact that few were actually converted by them to support the causes they espoused. I suspect that celebrating the reformers — while junking the reforms — is a way of atoning for our guilt and shame.

There are temples that still bar the entry of dalits. Every superstition and custom that Periyar campaigned against remains deeply entrenched and practised. In fact, some have acquired pernicious proportions. Time was when a Sikh and a Hindu could love, marry and live happily ever after in Punjab and elsewhere. Marriage between a Christian Nadar and a Hindu Nadar was common in Tamil Nadu. Today, in some parts of India, if a Hindu (boy or girl) is friendly with a Muslim (girl or boy), they are visited with grave consequences. The fact that there are more examples of inter-religious consortium cannot hide the other grim truth that there are many more examples of religious intolerance and persecution.

There is reason to believe that intolerance is on the rise. Look at the number of things that we ban – beef, jeans, books, cuss words, NGOs, websites, Internet services….

Look at the growing exclusiveness — Muslim candidates may not apply for jobs, single women are not welcome as tenants, this apartment building is only for vegetarians….

The intolerance brigades are now organising themselves and mutating into ‘movements’: ghar wapasi, love jihad….
It is intolerance that brought down the Babri masjid. It is intolerance that proclaims that all history written so far is a left-wing distortion. It is intolerance that finds fault with a thoughtful and insightful speech of Vice President Hamid Ansari that explored the many challenges faced by the Islamic community in India.

Intolerance and violence

Rising intolerance, inevitably, reveals its violent nature. We readily agree that the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) are intolerant and violent movements that have destroyed priceless monuments (the Bamiyan statues) and heritage sites (Palmyra). But we scarcely notice the violence involved in the attack on churches and pubs, in the excommunication of a young couple or in the expulsion of two students who shared affection.

The growing intolerance is extending to the realm of ideas. Atheism is taboo. Superstitions cannot be questioned. The warrior-king, Shivaji, cannot be portrayed as a secular ruler. Miracles cannot be exposed as fake. Charlie Hebdo cartoons cannot be reprinted in a newspaper. Result: Shireen Dalvi who reprinted the cartoons is bullied, Sanal Edamuruku who exposed a so-called miracle is threatened, and Govind Pansare (who portrayed Shivaji as a secular king), Narendra Dabholkar (who campaigned against superstition) and M M Kalburgi (who opposed idolatry) are murdered.

Such acts are in breach of the law, but when such acts are committed with impunity, the issue goes beyond the realm of law and order. It is no longer a question of simply finding the perpetrators, prosecuting them and punishing them according to law. The more important question is, how did these fanatics acquire a sense of being above the law and the Constitution? What gives them the confidence that they can get away with their crimes, they may not be prosecuted at all and, even if they are brought before the law, they can escape deterrent punishment?

Underlying factors

The answer is several-fold: firstly, the State, especially the Executive, has many sympathisers with their cause and is often soft or inept in setting the law in motion.

Secondly, the fanatics believe the law can be bent. Bungling instead of investigation, delayed trial instead of swift justice, fines instead of imprisonment, parole instead of judicial custody, remission instead of serving a sentence, and mercy instead of justice have blotted the administration of law.

Thirdly, they are able to win social support that sometimes turns into support of the whole community or caste. The perpetrators remain anonymous and no one will come forward to expose them.

Fourthly, the punishment of death may bring the halo of martyrdom. There are some people who venerate Indira Gandhi’s killers almost on par with Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The destroyers of the Babri masjid are Hindutva heroes. Islamist terrorists are jihadis for whom the gates of heaven are open.

As intolerance rises, liberal thought, pluralism and scientific temper will suffer. The gainer will be polarisation. Communities will become more inward-looking, selfish, protective and violent.

The Pansares, the Dabholkars and the Kalburgis can only do so much to bring about change — and sometimes may have to pay the supreme price. Only the State — fearless, strong, secular and fiercely loyal to the Constitution – can stand up to, and roll back, the growing threat of intolerance and violence.

Do you believe that we have, or are building, such a State?

Website: pchidambaram.in
@Pchidambaram_IN

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First Published on: September 6, 2015 1:50 am
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    A.R.Ramachandran
    Sep 27, 2016 at 2:35 am
    It needs the multi faceted genius and Harvard education of P. Chidambaram to write a complete article on Intolerance without making any substantial references to rabid Conversions and systematic undermining of religion and traditions of Majority.
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      Duckwalker Indian
      Sep 6, 2015 at 9:50 pm
      So George..... Jesus Christ and the story that surround it is also medieval absurdities right sir...? My friend remember Ram was born in every Hindus mind in India and just like you have yr Vatican and the Muslims Mecca we need a centre to call Rams birth place....if this too is medieval absurdities lets then raise to the ground all these structures that was built during this so called so called medieval absurdities
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        Duckwalker Indian
        Sep 6, 2015 at 9:37 pm
        We are the most unfortunate lot to be born when this man was a Finance minister, our children are not so bad cos they will only hear about him.....The place where his ashes r strewn after his death will remain a barren land without vegetation or water at least hundreds of miles in every direction for thousands of years......He tried to harm a great civilization called Hinduism by linking it with terrorism just to please his boss and an Italian lady of no substance called Sonia....Yes she gave him power but history will never forgive him......!
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          Duckwalker Indian
          Sep 6, 2015 at 9:59 pm
          and the Quran is from a devils workshop....!
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            Duckwalker Indian
            Sep 6, 2015 at 9:56 pm
            his Command ....to be precise....! Chiddu is a dictator.....!
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              Duckwalker Indian
              Sep 6, 2015 at 9:54 pm
              without any bloodshed.....without a drop of blood.....!
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                O H
                Sep 6, 2015 at 11:13 am
                You are a crook and nothing less than a hooligan trying to cultivate communal violence. Don't pretend to be a wise man. The world clearly knows your intentions. Time for You and your old school of thoughts are over. People still do respect your intelligence in handling Finance and as home minister and Iam one amoung them. Make a graceful exit out of politics to Save this respect and enjoy the Trillions you cleverly looted
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                  Shoeb Siddique
                  Sep 23, 2015 at 5:46 pm
                  Hebdo* earlier in my post it was written Hebdomad which was a typo error.
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                    Shoeb Siddique
                    Sep 23, 2015 at 5:42 pm
                    You are write in all occasions Mr.Chidambaram but the Charlie Hebdomad cartoons were wrong and are intolerant and deserve intolerance. Murder is wrong, instead this organisation should have been prosecuted and punished for its actions. What will the world do if they had disrespected Prophet Isa (Jesus). I am an Indian secular muslim. I respect Prophet Isa ( Jesus ) completely. My father is a very big fan of yours.
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                      Veni Vedi
                      Sep 6, 2015 at 10:27 am
                      Chidambaram seems to be a clic chicken Licken -the sky is not falling (except for congressmen) India is a far more tolerant society than most others; blips and incidences he refers to are over stated and just wrong in most cases. Move on man
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                        adf
                        Sep 6, 2015 at 6:02 am
                        What does a VVIP know about a society he has never been in real touch with ? His words are politically motivated. At best he can be an arm chair philosopher, otherwise what his party has done to address the problems he has mentioned ? Afterall they have ruled the nation for most of the time.
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                          ajit
                          Sep 6, 2015 at 10:47 am
                          the answer would appear to be a clear NO! we haven't attempted to do so in the last 68 years and unfortunately do not appear to be starting now. the author is right in blaming Government but how can politicians escape the blame! ultimately it'll be left to civil society to shape the kind of society they want - with the brick bats or the bouquets!
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                            shaks
                            Sep 6, 2015 at 5:54 am
                            Article is OK but ur government was in power what steps have u been taken during ur tenure?
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                              Anil Tandale
                              Sep 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm
                              Sikhs were macred in 1984 as a proof of tolerance.
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                                Ankit Trivedi
                                Sep 6, 2015 at 9:50 am
                                You are quick to criticize intolerance in current regime while forgetting the history of your leaders who epitomized the practice of Intolerance during the JP movement, resulting in Emergency and some of the most draconian laws being ped to curb even the basic fundamental rights and for the society to be entirely secular it is all the communities would have to work towards it ,which in this case is always Hindu who have been more open to multi-cultural pluralist society whilst the second major dominant religion section is still contemplating whether it serves any useful purpose to allow the girl child to pursue the higher education.
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                                  anup
                                  Sep 6, 2015 at 1:20 pm
                                  A simple glaring example that should tirn the tables is that the Gujarat had not seen any riots since 2001 while before that why were there riots every year under a congress government?
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                                    anup
                                    Sep 6, 2015 at 8:46 am
                                    Agree with Mr. Chidambaram but fail to understand why shouldnt the UPA be held responsible forthe rise of the BJP. The blatant corruption(added with arrogance when confronted with facts). TheUPA saw the rise of Narendra Modi and non corrupt insutional policies but couldnt match him on that aspect. Feel, just by looking outside for ones faliures and find faults in others doesnt help .
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                                      anup
                                      Sep 6, 2015 at 1:17 pm
                                      Any individual can bri g to the nations attention what is going wrong with the nation but an individual who had the power to do the right thing when in power and didnt do it for personal preservation has diminished moral right to point fingers at others who are more proactive. In administrative ter.s Mr.Chidambaram seemed to have looked the other way (within legal boundaries) in the unsaid guise of 'Politics of Compulsion'. B.T.W any positives that yu would wish to highlight sir about the current government?
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                                        anup
                                        Sep 6, 2015 at 4:37 pm
                                        If you visit Gujarat and speak with people from different strata to understand what they feel ........you will get the real picture..Me putting my view will not convince you more.
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                                          anup
                                          Sep 6, 2015 at 4:45 pm
                                          Mr. Chidambarm' s strength is his clarity and legal background which helped him to convince the G family of his use to them. Today we have a PM who is uses his business skills to work for the people and not for himself. India doesnt need the G family(with due respect to them) and we will see that happen as the government loosens its grip on various sectors and decentralizes power. RAGA will find it difficult after 5 yrs or 10 yrs to approach politics from the same old G family perspective.
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                                            anup
                                            Sep 6, 2015 at 4:35 pm
                                            There is no doubt that he is one of the most intelligent and result oriented politicians and is a gift to the nation(all misdeeds overlooked)....but his moral standing as of today stands diminished as (from the perspective of what he stands for) his inaction as the Finance minister in the 2G scam shows that he (had no choice) looked the other side...cluding the Coal scam. Moreover Today with a procative government his abilities will come into comparision . The past is past. He was handicapped after a certain point due to the G family. Mind you the G family prioritises its safety before the nation when making policy as after generations they have a heavy baggage of secrets ( from the past) to carry. As a citizen I am only looking who is serving my purpose better....SIMPLE
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