Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Rise of Intolerance in India

G Vijayam

The National Conference of the FIRA is taking place at the critical juncture of modern Indian history. It is crucial for the country as to which road we take-the tolerance or the Intolerance.
Dr G Vijayam addressing the FIRA conference 

Our country is known for the comity of the nations and for its tolerance and accommodation. Indian path to democracy highlighted accommodation and adjustment of diverse view points through dialogue and discussion. The legacy of the freedom movement was unity in diversity. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution envisioned India as a Federal state with a unity bias. The strength of India lies in its unity and its ability to adjust to new situations without compromising the basic tenets of the Constitution.

The dividing line between tolerance and intolerance is very thin, but with profound consequences to the nation and the people. Which road we take is the crux of the matter.

History bears testimony to the disastrous consequences of intolerance. The Crusades in the Middle Ages of Europe and the 100 Years War, 30 Years War and many other internal and external conflicts within the Nations, led to greater intolerance, resulting in the bloodshed. Much blood was shed in the name of religion and its bigotry. The conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant countries and the other nuances of the in same Christian religion, led to shedding of much blood of the innocent people.

Constitutionalism and to the Emergence of Democracies

This finally led to the idea of Constitutionalism and to the emergence of democracies. The foundation for these is the need for Separation of State and Religion. In other words, Politics and Religion must be separate. The State belongs to all, irrespective of their personal beliefs or non belief and religious preferences, if any. The acceptance of the concept of separation of the State and Religion was an important landmark in the onward march of the society. The supremacy of the State over religion was not that easy and it took centuries to accept the idea.

The emergence of secularism reflects the primacy of the State over all other institutions within the state.

The growth of Democracy in many parts of the world, in particular in India, is equally significant. Democracy may not be best form of Government, but the other alternatives of democracy are the worst. Democracy may be weak and ineffective and incapable of talking decisions fast. But the greatness of democracy is that it reflects the will of the people through periodic elections and people can enthrone, or dethrone the representatives of the people through their power of ballot. The periodic elections are the safety valve in democracy.

Experience of Dictatorship

The dictatorships ruled the roost in the 20th Century, the world over. The Communist, Fascist and tribal dictatorships finally collapsed, because they did not give scope for dissent or difference of opinion. Intolerance is the inherent quality of dictatorships. They brook no opposition. But difference of opinion is bound to be there. People have divergent views. They cannot be silenced forever. The Concentration camps in Germany could not silence opposition for long. The collapse of the Soviet Union which was a super power was not due to any war, but because of lack of freedom and expression of their opinions. The tribal dictatorships like that of Edi Amine in Uganda also collapsed. Thus by the end of the 20th Century, it was more or less clear to the people that dissent is the ascent of society. The will of the people is supreme. The new wave of recent awakening in the Middle East, especially triggered in Syria and Egypt, has created a snowball effect for democratic uprising in the majorly dictatorial area.

The Indian Experience 

What we have achieved in India in 1947 is the political Independence. Democracy gives freedom, but does not guarantee food. Unless and until there is concerted and continuous effort to achieve social and economic equality, mere political democracy will not satisfy people.

The political parties in India have turned into mere vote catching machines without any scruples. They want to cash on the weaknesses of others. Others weakness or lapse is their str2ngth. They do not have constructive or creative approach to rebuild society.

Of late the parties have become intolerant to others and they are looking at each and every issue through partisan and opportunistic lenses. In India, almost all political parties are in power in one state or the other. When they are in power, they want to safeguard their position by hook or crook, even with the most opportunistic alliances and with all types of compromises. When they are in opposition, they shed crocodile tears and try to recapture the power as early as possible. The constructive thinking is at a discount.

Thus in the political sphere, intolerance is growing, as the people in power have a single point of agenda, that is to cling on to power by hook or crook and while the opposition parties are steeped in mudslinging at their opponents. Politics, thus degenerated into, poly-tricks. Every party poses as though it is holier than others. But they do not hesitate to resort to corruption and nepotism when the opportunity comes. What happens in politics has a ripple effect on all other areas of social, economic and educational spheres. There may be some degrees of difference, but not much difference in quality.

As politicians lost their moral fiber and their sole aim is to capture power, they started alliances with the moneyed and the opportunistic groups and individuals. The outcome is too well known to be elaborated here. Anti-social elements capture the legislative and ministerial positions by their money and muscle power.

The political parties started compromising their stand on secularism, freedom of expression and democratic values. It is resulting in the rise of money power and fall in moral standards in public life.

It is the time to build alternatives to strengthen the democratic and secular ramparts we guard. Our sole aim is to achieve social change through democratic and secular means. Our moral fiber is our strength. Without firm commitment, determined action and ready for sacrifice, alternatives to the present dismal situation cannot be built.

The growing corruption in all fields of life -political, economic and social-is eating the vitals of the nation. As moral values are at discount, everyone talks about the corruption of the others. In one state or the other, all major parties are in power, at least as the coalition partners. When the opportunity to do corruption comes, they leave all their sermons to winds, and resort to corruption. The corruption of the ministers at the Union and the State Governments reveal that with some minor exceptions, majority of the politicians are trying to make hey when the sun shines. The degree of difference is in proportion to the opportunities they have to resort to graft. The people at various levels start emulating politicians. Corruption, nepotism, and partisan spirit go together. Corruption in the country is growing horizontally as well as vertically.

People are asking, who is our role model?

Caste and Democracy

Added to the woes, now intolerance is growing in the social field. Caste has become a convenient tool in the hands of the politicians. They are fanning the caste and sub-caste consciousness. In Portuguese language "Casta" means division and the word caste was derived. Since the advent of Independence, how many new castes emerged in India is everyone's guess. Now, many people moved beyond caste professions and they are migrating and are engaged in many other professions. But as the birth of the person is the criteria for caste classification, it opened up Pandora's Box and now the sub-caste consciousness also has grown, which is leading to hostility and intolerance between sub-castes, there is the new cause of intolerance and conflict in society. Caste and religion are intertwined. Religion will not go unless caste is abolished and inter-untouchability and intra-untouchablity is the part of the caste system. Caste consciousness grows at the expense of secularism. Politicians and social leaders are now exploiting the caste differences. Instead of encouraging castelessness and intercaste marriages and intermingling of all, politicians are trying to have a cleavage in the name of caste.  It will have an adverse affect on secularism.

Democracy has given the right to vote through universal adult suffrage. It is a quantum jump, no doubt. It brought new awakening among people. People's consciousness has increased. The media plays a major role in informing the people about their rights. It is a welcome change. But rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. It is a matter of regret that duty consciousness, and the effort to enhance their abilities for social good through collective action has not taken strong roots in the Indian soil. The political leaders and the Trade unions and all ethers are stressing their rights, but not on corresponding duties. Without performing their duties, the short cuts to success are short lived and leads to a bone of contention.

The growing intolerance in political, social and economic, educational and others spheres need to be tackled for the unity and integrity of the nation and society. Positive action with determined commitment will lead to change in the atmosphere. Corruption, nepotism, intolerance, parochial considerations need to be addressed at various levels. Alternatives must be evolved so that there will be a positive action for a positive future.

Role of Individuals and Organizations 

Here comes the role of the individual and all the organizations. Growing intolerance will lead to cut throat competition and instability in the nation and society. In this age of democracy, the citizen's action is bound to have a positive impact on the society in the long run, if not earlier.

For complex and compound problems there is no single or simple solution or instant results. But in a democratic environment the scope for social change is much more and in this age of communications and media, people' receptivity and wave-length can be established relatively faster than the yester years. Hence every conscious and concerned individual or organization must raise their voice against the growing intolerance in the society and its adverse impact on the democratic and secular ramparts we guard. Pleasure lies in pursuit and it is bound to gain momentum as the cause is genuine and the need is profound to the future growth of the nation and the society on peaceful lines. 

(Dr G Vijaym is the Executive Director of Atheist Centre, Vijayawada. This is the paper he presented at the 8th National Conference of  Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA) in Nagpur, Maharashtra, held on 11th & 12th February 2012. Dr Vijayam is also elected as the Patron of FIRA)


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