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Monday, May 5, 2014

On Tolerating Intolerance

I find myself getting into a lot of arguments these days. It has to do with the charged political situation, of course, but also with my increasing dissatisfaction. A very valued friend said to me a few days ago - "What happened in Gujarat in 2002 was an act of discipline; think of it as a school where the teacher has to punish a few students to teach everyone a lesson. See how peaceful things have been in that state since then?" This was at the end of 20 minutes of back and forth on 'Economic Progress' vs the uphill task of ensuring everyone in this country lives with equal safety and dignity. It's a continuing argument, and I try and stay calm as I defend the latter, even as I'm mentally rolling my eyes at the Economic Progress modelers. When I find myself about to get upset, I request that we change the subject...So what did you do over the weekend?

But that day, when this friend suddenly threw the teacher-student-punishment metaphor at me, my rage exploded in a way that surprised everyone, including myself (I don't even agree with punishing students in school, but never mind that for now). I said I can no longer be friends with someone who can explain away a pogrom, and walked away, shivering in anger. The intensity of this anger was new - heart drumming, ears burning, I wanted to hurt someone!
We made up, of course, a few hours later. Apologies on both sides, and the promise not to discuss politics, etc. But I'm very worried, for two reasons. One, because the demons have come closer home. The people who say things like certain communities needs to be 'disciplined' are no longer nameless faceless people running amok in UP and Gujarat. They're my friends, they say this very subtly, and they say this as part of a detailed explanation on how 'difficult' things need to be done to make us a rich and prosperous nation. So first, we'll become rich, and then we will give everyone equal rights, okay? It cannot be the other way round, Mojo - it would've worked by now if it did.

The second reason why this is worrying is because it is pushing the limits of what I can take in my stride. A friend and I often daydream about this new religion that will come into being one of these days. Its sole tenet would be - Everything You Do Is Okay As Long As You Do Not Hurt The Planet And The Beings In It. Think about it. Everyone would be safe.You would still find some people stupid because they came from a different country, worshipped a different book/stone/building, or because they got turned on by men/women/shoes and you didn't or because they loved a different football team, but you wouldn't kill them for it. No one would convince you that killing them was important for your economic growth or salvation or honour. Since I already believe in this religion, and tolerance is the one value that I prize above all others, the rage I feel against intolerance worries me. If Everything You Do Is Okay, then your belief that a certain community is inferior should be okay with me too. And yet, it isn't.




3 comments:

  1. The anger you felt was communicated to me, as a reader - so a very impactful post!

    "Since I already believe in this religion, and tolerance is the one value that I prize above all others, the rage I feel against intolerance worries me."
    I have often imagined a time where we grow sick of the word - "tolerance". It's such a bad word. I don't want to be saying that I tolerate a religion, a person or a school of thought. I want to embrace it, identify with it and relate to it. But yes, the first step would be to move from intolerance to tolerance.

    But we can't embrace intolerance, can we? You have pointed us to a very fine dilemma, I must say.

    "...your belief that a certain community is inferior should be okay with me too. And yet, it isn't."
    This is because this belief is at war with the one and only tenet in your religion - "As You Do Not Hurt The Planet And The Beings In It".

    As long as there are any qualifiers and tenets to the statement - "Everything you do is okay", it's bound to create warring ideas. These ideas will beg us to embrace, tolerate or be intolerant of them. There is no way out of this. And evolution only makes these ideas more complex and tenets and qualifiers multiply.

    It's impossible for everyone to believe in the same thing. We are the sum of our thoughts and beliefs. And that's also makes us all unique. And it takes all kinds to make a world. We are the kind that that puts down its foot and says, the only thing we won't tolerate is intolerance. Is that too wrong?

    Keep writing! :)

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  2. Such a heartwarming statement! It's a blessing people like you exist. I agree with you that we need to embrace and love some principles, but what I'm asking for tolerance for everything else, all the principles that you don't believe in - they're okay too. Except when they hurt the planet and the beings in it :)

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  3. 100% agreed. If maths allowed for a higher percentage, I'd agree more. But as the colloquial expression goes - 'couldn't agree more (because I am already at 100% and just can't allow agreement to ooze out of my ears and nose!)'. :). I think I might have said enough about that. I should stop now. Oops! I can't stop! Damn! And again!

    Alright, that's enough.

    Just to add - here is my favorite opinionated person in the world saying the same thing - " Tolerance is a weak form of secularism". Do check it out - http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/how-modi-defeated-liberals-like-me/article6034057.ece

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