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.

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