One of the cardinal features of our Constitution is the guarantee of a wide array of fundamental rights which are judicially enforceable against the state. The Constitution of India, as originally framed, did not make any specific provision for the duties of citizens. It was only in 1976 that the specific Chapter IV-A was incorporated by a Constitutional amendment and Article 51-A was enacted. It lists 10 fundamental duties, articulated in elegant language.
The co-relation between rights and duties is not a new-fangled concept. Gandhiji summed up the matter admirably: “I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved come from duty well done”. Walter Lippmann, the philosopher-journalist, was emphatic that, “For every right that you cherish you have a duty which you must fulfill.” Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 [UDHR] declares that “everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”.
One important duty which is not specifically mentioned is the duty to practice tolerance. One cannot effectively perform fundamental duties unless tolerance is prevalent in society. The immaculate premise of our Constitution is tolerance and mutual accommodation. Tolerance is not merely a goody-goody virtue. It entails a positive mindset which permits and protects not only the expression of thoughts and ideas which are accepted and are acceptable, but which also accords freedom to the thought we hate, and protects the proponent of heterodox views.
At present, the rise of intolerance is alarming. We recently witnessed its shocking manifestation when certain persons who were offended by some themes in the movie Padmavati, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, vandalised the sets and other property of the producer. In the not too distant past, we witnessed another example of intolerance in the case of movie star Khushboo, who opined that men should no more expect their brides to be virgins and added that when youngsters indulge in pre-marital sex, they should use protective measures. These are possible views and are also held by others. One may disagree, but her criminal prosecution manifests frightening intolerance. Suhasini Maniratnam, who agreed with Khushboo’s views, became the target of a vicious public campaign and is also facing prosecution. This is fascism in action. If this fascist trend is not curbed swiftly and stringently, it will undermine our democracy.
Consider the case of the young Muslim girl, Nahid Afren, who was forbidden by Muslim clerics not to sing the songs which she did with genuine feeling. There were no objectionable words in the songs. It is creditable the young girl did not succumb to the threat of the clerics.
The best antidote to intolerance is the practice of tolerance. The sad fact is that tolerance cannot be legislated. Bernard Levin rightly reminds us that, “in every age of transition men are never so firmly bound to one way of life as when they are about to abandon it, so that fanaticism and intolerance reach their most intense forms just before tolerance and mutual acceptance come to be the natural order of things.” Therefore, we must develop the capacity for tolerance by fostering an environment of tolerance, a culture of tolerance. Stereotypes and prejudices must be eschewed.
The press has an important role to play. It should incessantly preach the message that no group or body has the monopoly of truth and morality and we must respect the point of view of the “other minded”. The press must unequivocally condemn instances of intolerance, without fear of consequences.
The role of education cannot be overemphasised. It should inculcate the virtue of tolerance in students at all levels. It should ensure that prejudices and stereotypes are eschewed and are not perpetuated.
In its celebrated judgment in S. Rangarajan vs. P. Jagjivan Ram, our Supreme Court emphasised that, “freedom of expression which is legitimate and constitutionally protected, cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group of people. We must practice tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself.”
To my mind, the paramount duty to practice tolerance should be expressly included and highlighted in the list of fundamental duties in our Constitution. If that duty is conscientiously performed, it would result in a salutary change in our society and also ensure peace and harmony. We should take a pledge today to practice tolerance and to ensure that intolerance, with its inevitable corollary of violence, does not subvert our democratic values and disfigure our way of life. We should resolve to promote tolerance in our multi-religious, multi-cultural nation and thereby strengthen and enrich our pluralist democracy, which is the pride of our nation.