The Intolerant Indian Society

Intolerance is prevalent in our society nowadays; there is a prodigious resource of intolerance among different individuals and issues that concern them. People seem to have become so intolerant that they seem to be looking for loopholes in the system so that they can target the desired sector of the society, just to fuel their own narrow perspectives.

Recently, there have been many cases which show the bigotry of Indians towards minor issues which tend to become omnipresent and reach dire consequences in no time. Our society has become a playground for the intolerant where anyone who dislikes anything is makes a great hue and cry about it. Gaining public support is not difficult as there is always a large part of the populace that thinks alike. Small issues are popped and massive protests are carried out with no reason and one always gets a needle in the haystack to start the fire.

Take for instance the screening of Jodha Akbar by Ashutosh Gowarikar. The movie was pulled off the theatres in Rajasthan because it hurt the sentiments of few people. A hitherto fringe group, calling itself the Rajput Karni Sena (Army) had taken umbrage because Jodha, a Rajput princess, had been depicted as the wife of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the film, instead of the spouse of Akbar’s son, Jehangir. They claim that the Rajput honor has been sorely affronted by this inaccuracy. As a result, they disrupted the screening of the film all over Rajasthan. What I fail to understand is that in this work of art of giving a form to history through imagination for entertainment purposes, how indeed does it matter to the people whether Jodha was married to the father, instead of the son? In my opinion, the only sane reason I can think of is that these activists protest in order to get cheap publicity. However, the Godfather of all these protests is undoubtedly the media. It is the media which sets fire to these issues so that their news channels get a good TRP rating and the newspapers get fodder for their gossip columns.

There have been more such cases of intolerance, and if one takes a close look at them, many would turn out to be so stupid that it is unimaginable how possibly anyone could have ever thought like that. Sania Mirza has court cases slapped against her for resting her foot too close to a national flag; Richard Gere for resting his lips too close to Shilpa Shetty’s. The Viking Penguin has been served a legal notice because Jaishree Mishra’s historical novel on the Rani of Jhansi actually treats her as a human being! Our most famous living artist, M F Husain is living in exile at an age at which he should be close to his loved ones and live with honor in his homeland. An exhibition in Chennai on Aurangzeb is shut down after protests by Muslims claiming it misrepresents the medieval emperor. Taslima Nasreen, a persecuted author to whom India had given asylum, has now fled the country. The relentless hounding by the fundamentalist Muslims and the cravenness of the West Bengal and the Indian government compelled her to flee.

Everyone has their axe to grind in being intolerant but why are they trying to inveigle the guileless public who doesn’t see any intention behind these outbreaks? The quintessence of intolerance is “best” shown in Maharashtra where the North Indians are being packaged back to the place where they came from. The Maratha “manoos” believe that the overpopulation of the North Indians in Maharashtra might put their identity on the edge. Also, the enthusiasm with which the North Indians celebrate their festivals is unacceptable to them and they demand that either they show less enthusiasm during their festivals or they must leave Maharashtra. The influence of Raj Thackeray and his “diktat” convinced a handful of Sena workers to compel North Indians to leave their state. They were instructed to achieve this task even if it meant having to break anyone’s head or destroy property. These are minions who work when told and get paid for it. Moreover, the majority of the public is not involved in it as they consider “kaun lafede mein padega”.

The problem is not irrevocable; everyone needs to know their own limitations and should avoid crossing them. The media should know when not to cross the line, which articles need to be published and which not. In America, no newspaper for instance would print the so-called “n” word when referring to black Americans– not because the government disallows it but because the editors are conscious of what is the socially acceptable thing to do. Indian editors are capable of the same judgements. Leaving governments to decide what is reasonable and responsible substitutes the judgement of the authorities for the judgement of the media, and so jeopardizes press freedom. Societies have self correcting mechanisms and whenever media goes too far it rapidly discovers the limits for itself.

Every time we bow to intolerance, we are betraying our tradition of being tolerant and we are letting down ourselves as a civilization. It is time to wake up from the slumber and do something to prevent intolerance, prejudices and fanaticism of the Indian society.

Ravi Agrawal

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