Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Rise of Intolerance

Narendra Nayak

As we progress in material terms and with the rise of technology one would expect the society to become more tolerant, liberated and open to all points of view however much they differ from what we hold. But, we see that the opposite is happening.  The success of a democracy is measured by the extent of freedom of expression of the citizens and the protection given to exercise this right. The right to dissent and that to blasphemy are fundamental human rights.

But. what is happening today in our country as well as some other parts of the world runs quite contradictory to this. The rising intolerance to the contradictory point of view is now becoming a great danger to democracy and the freedom of expression of the individual. This could be anything from preventing a marriage between two consenting adults to preventing some one from speaking his point of view to trying to restrict the freedom of the press. This has gone to extent of  attempts at curbing the rights of individuals to speak out their minds on the so called 'social web sites', that too by the judiciary which is supposed to uphold the fundamental rights of the citizen. We in Karnataka have been increasingly subjected to such attacks by all sorts of outfits belonging to various religious and political denominations. The same has been now observed at the national level. While these outfits tend to support individuals who have points of view inconvenient to those which have a conflicting interest, when it come to their own their attitude becomes totally different. For example the saffron outfits which prima facie support Salman Rushdie's freedom of expression have attacked journalists for writing things about some historical individuals who they feel are their exclusive property though they lived long before these came into existence! Again, we can see the defenders of freedom of expression belonging to some religions who act like supporters of democratic rights in countries where they are in minority while in those in which they are in majority have been converted to Islamic republics where their primitive tribal laws hold sway! Some of them even claim that Islamic rights are superior to human rights as proposed by the United nations organisation!

The rise of this intolerance has reached such depths that we have had ministers commenting on how what women wear invites rape! In fact, this is an indirect support for those who can say they were provoked into rape by the way women dress! This could be also an indirect way of strengthening the gender stereotypes of the religious beliefs in which women are looked upon as chattels. In fact this has been happening in some places where there are claims of 'love jihad' as if women are some commodities who can be easily hoodwinked or traded. This attitude is particularly reflected when a marriage takes place. Instead of looking at that as a decision of two individuals to live together, it is viewed as a reflection on the status of castes and religious beliefs of the families of these individuals. Many times, even murders have taken place to preserve the 'family honour'! The revulsion is more in the case of interreligious marriages and those which occur between those of a 'touchable' and untouchable caste! Having assisted hundreds of such youngsters in love to get married, I have noticed the maximum opposition when one of them is a dalit! It does not matter whether it the male or the female! the very thought of a caste Hindu marrying a dalit is anathema to the families of the 'upper caste' partner of the marriage.

The funniest part of this intolerant society is their selective support to the victims of intolerance of their perceived enemies. the saffron groups for example have condemned the attack on Salman Rushdie by the Muslims. the most recent one in this has been the protest against Rushdie attending the Jaipur literature festival and speaking there. This has been condemned by some of the saffron gangs as a infringement of right to freedom of expression. All this while one of the victims of their attack, the artist Hussain was protected by islamists! It is but natural that ones enemy's victim is a friend to be supported! This intolerance has now been extended to literature too.

The most recent protest in this respect has been about a book called Gandhi Banda which has been a prescribed non detailed one for the degree classes of the Mangalore University. While this has been in the syllabus for quite some time, it is only very recently fund to be offensive to one particular community- the gold smiths! Though the person referred to is a carpenter called as Achari in Tulu the local language, the community of goldsmiths who are also called Achari had threatened to go on protest. however, nothing much actually materialised out of this threat! However, the moving forces behind this so called protest are actually the Shivalli brahmins about whom is this work of fiction! Though based on a true story of a brahmin widow marrying a Muslim, The book depicted the cruelty to widows and a young woman rebelling against it in the back ground of the freedom struggle in the district. Though the attempts to get it removed from the prescribed list of text books has not succeeded so far, we do not know when it will be proscribed.

The reaction to a write up in a popular Kannada daily, the Prajavani by a student organisation is another example of this hooliganism. The write up pointed out that Swami Vivekananda whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated all over the country as a mortal with all his shortcomings. He was described as a dull student, his history in service that of being removed from hsi post for not being very good in teaching etc were mentioned and the author took pains to explain that despite all these he managed to build up a strong movement, revived the reformist streak in the Hindu society and emphasised on the eradication of many social evils including the caste system. he was also portrayed as a non vegetarian with a fondness for cooking good food and also suffering from many ailments. This had perhaps punctured the egos of certain elements who had imagined him to be of a strong muscular build and a vegetarian too. More than anything it must have been an attempt to hog the lime light. While the choice of some words to describe him could be called uncomplementary though not defamatory the reaction was an act of total intolerance to anything that does not conform to the what the protesters thought was right.Even a protest could be justified as it is everyone's democratic right to protest but it cannot be done by violence and destruction of property!

The level of this expression of intolerance has been fine tuned to such an extent that they are conflicts even among the upper castes themselves about their degrees of purity! For example GSBs (Gowd saraswath brahmins) have been physically removed from the rows of Shivalli brahmins who fancy themselves as those with a higher degree of ;purity'. It has come to the extent of even boycott of a swami from one of their own maths for having committed the 'sin' of crossing the seas which climaxed into high drama with one of seers going on a fast to protest this injustice to him and the most senior one of them going on a counter fast!

Culminating this series of localised acts of intolerance come the attempts at the national level to curb all dissent and freedom of expression. Under the guise that certain statements or pictures may offend the 'religious sentiments' of particular communities the central govt. is thinking of enacting legislation to 'filter out'  what is called as 'objectionable content' from the internet. While it is powerless to act against against individuals and organisations which incite communal sentiments and even exhort the listeners to commit even murders, the action is being contemplated against those peacefully express their views of the net! The culture if it can be called as so of intolerance is on the rise in our society. It is coming to such levels that the freedom of expression is being curtailed and human rights are being trampled upon. matters have come to such a head that some citizens have become authorities by themselves and hold their self made 'constitutions' to be superior to that applicable to all other citizens. If the superiority of the constitution of this country is not asserted by those whose responsibility it is to do so than this country has a very bleak future. the silent majority as to be expected from them are keeping up their tradition of being silent while the vocal microscopic minority professing their own laws have the ears and eyes of the media and that of the nation. Unless we the silent majority break our silence and make ourselves heard we can be sure that a time will come when we are going to be silenced for ever and it will be too late to repent.

Bearing the risk of repetition I once again quote the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke-
All it takes for the dark forces of evil to take over this world is enough number of good people who want to donothing.let us stop being those good people who want to nothing.

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