So much debate about intolerance in the country that I am baffled whether India is really becoming intolerant. For one, I don’t agree, and so do most of the Indians, with the idea that there was no intolerance before Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister. What was the demolition of Babri Masjid? Or the killing of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 which the then Prime Minister justified while our present PM has never done anything like that? Or the Indian state’s attitude towards Kashmir and its democracy when it imposed president’s rule in 1983? Or its attempts to nullify the decision of Shah Bano case? Or it banning the Satanic Verses? Or Mrs. Gandhi imposing emergency and censoring press? All these still haunt India in more ways than one. And this is the reason why we have to be worried about the state of affairs in the country today. If we stay silent like we did on the above-mentioned occasions (assuming that we have), then things are going to turn catastrophic as they have in the past. Attributing motives to people who have not stood up on occasions when Congress pushed intolerance but are standing up now when BJP is ruling is illogical. All we have to consider is whether there is intolerance in the country or not. If yes, then shut up and do something about it rather than questioning the credibility of those protesting it. If no, say ‘No’ and stop going personal.
That said, speaking from my personal experience, there is indeed a bit of hostility towards liberals on the internet. I agree that the secular discourse in the country has over time become more a pro-minority discourse than a neutral one. But that doesn’t mean you start abusing everyone who doesn’t align with a particular nationalist view, attribute anti-national motives to them and resort to name calling. I just have to go to Youtube and see the comments on a video where a liberal is voicing his/her views to get a glimpse of all the abusing and name calling that is happening. I just have to talk about India’s secularism to be called a Congi.
The greatest problem facing the country today, which not many seems to recognize or dare to confront even if they have recognized (and instead of confronting it, started returning their awards), is the identity crisis. And that is the reason why Hindus (mostly youth) are subscribing to the Hindu Nationalism. They feel unified by identifying themselves as Hindus. But ask them what the scripture in Hinduism is, most of them fail to tell you the right answer. Ask them if they know Sanskrit, most of them will reply in negative. Ask them if they know the vernacular translators of itihasa, let alone reading it, ask them what shastras mean, ask if they are familiar with the literature of Adi Shankaracharya or other Hindu scholars, not many of them will give you a positive reply. But tell them that beef ban is nonsense or that MF Hussain was treated badly by us and they will see that you regret saying what you’ve said.
So this is Hinduism in 21st Century, an identity provider and the unifier of the people of India. You follow Hindu culture because you want to be distinct from the other cultures and not because of your reverence towards it, because you are threatened by potential colonization by other cultures. The cultural values of respecting elders, valuing the institution of marriage and other good things which people like Subramanian Swamy tell as the core principles of Hindutva, opposing the common notion that it has something to do with the Hindu religion, seem to have failed in striking a chord lest these Hindu Nationalists would not have been so abusive on the internet every time someone says, with whatever motive and however untrue it is, that there is intolerance in the country.
Shiv Sena announced Rs.1 lakh reward to the one who slaps Aamir Khan because he publicly said that his wife had proposed that they leave the country. I don’t know whether it is right or not that he say it publicly. But announcing a reward for slapping someone who voiced his concerns over intolerance in the country is cheap. Where are our standards going? Does this attitude not testify the claims of those who are protesting against intolerance? If Aamir Khan has violated any law, take him to court. That’s how India works, not by such petty symbols. You might say, “But radical Islamists are more violent.” Shame that we have to compare ourselves with Islamic terrorists. You just can’t justify what you are doing by saying that you are better that those terrorists. Nothing is more appalling.
Now there are those who argue that India is much more tolerant than many nations in the world. And those “many nations” are countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Great! Is Saudi Arabia the standard for us, now? Of course, we are more tolerant than Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. But that doesn’t mean we do everything we want (of course, ensuring that the standards do not fall below Saudi’s) and say we are a tolerant society. Bad logic, sir.
I recently came across Balaji Vishwanathan’s answer to a question ‘Is India a tolerant nation?’ Balaji Vishwanthan is someone I respect, but I tend to be contradicting with his rhetoric here. Of course, anti-Islamic rallies don’t occur in India. But should that nullify the fact that, when people like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan talk about intolerance (again, however untrue or exaggerated it may be), they are being called Pakistanis and asked to go to Pakistan?
And I am not talking only about someone being intolerant towards other religions. It is also the intolerance towards a liberal discourse that bothers me. If the vote-bank politics has prostituted the word secular, the Hindutva discourse has made it a bad word. True, it was not in the preamble of the original constitution until Indira Gandhi got it added, along with the word Socialist, during Emergency. But do we need to call ourselves secular to follow it? Is our culture itself not secular? But then, that is what Hindutva, apparently, means (Narendra Modi on Hindutva). I agree with Mr. Modi here when he says that Hindutva is the philosophy of tolerance and secularism. But don’t these right-wing activists see that the usage of the word that has ‘Hindu’ in it to refer to such a noble philosophy is bothering people of other religions? Is it to render Hindus some sort of superiority in this country that they refrain from using a more acceptable word? And why is there such hostility towards someone who is opposed to the Hindutva ideology?
But all these people who indulge in the abovementioned activities on the internet and other mediums of communication themselves are a minority. They don’t represent, thankfully, the voice of even the whole Hindu community, let alone the country. India is a tolerant society not because these Hindu Nationalists are tolerant. But because there are people in overwhelming majority who don’t take offense at every voice of dissent or who can’t care less. The concern is that there is a discourse, gaining momentum with encouragement of Prime Minister’s silence, which is trying to legitimize the demand for making India a Hindu Rashtra. And it concerns me because I am against making India a Hindu Rashtra.
If indeed Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan decide to leave the country, it will be a shame for but India. India is already not a favorable country for investments (remember what George Fernandis did to Coco-cola) and then it will not be a favorable place for people of non-Hindu religions to live as well (however tolerant the country might be) just because of the symbolism that a few celebrities left the country. We need to watch our words.