By Professor MS Rao:
The attacks this year on rationalists by fundamentalist groups and right-wing religious groups are highly deplorable. All patriotic citizens must condemn such attacks. It is obvious that all is not well in India. An example can be the visit of Shimon Peres, the former President of Israel to India and India’s red carpet welcome to him which was not appreciated by some section of Indian Muslims. And there are many more. Something is wrong, and it is clearly evident where the wrong is. But firstly, we need to analyse the several reasons for the current climate of intolerance in the country.
PM Modi’s aggressive approach to economic development and prosperity has become a thorn for opposition parties in India. Some of the politicians within his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are envious of his growing international image and popularity. Additionally, some non-state actors and vested interests are creating the confusion in India, as to what is intolerant, who is intolerant and why.
Here’s my analysis to understand why we need dissenting elements like intellectuals in the country and why the government should rise up to the challenge.
As blood is important to flow in arteries for humans, ink is important to flow in pens for authors. Lack of freedom of expression stifles creativity. Authors are the soldiers of the literary world. As soldiers fight to defend and protect the country from external forces, authors are soldiers who fight for the protection of their freedom of expression from internal forces who endeavor to create a climate of terror and distrust in the society. Additionally, literature is the mirror of the society and writers are the soldiers. As the uniformed soldiers protect national boundaries the literary soldiers protect the internal system by voicing their views and opinions.
Rabindranath Tagore returned the knighthood to the British government in the wake of Jallianwalabagh massacre as a mark of protest. Hence, protests create awareness in the society and correct the leaders to govern well as per the aspirations and expectations of the people. We must respect protests as they raise the irregularities in the democratic system. We must remember that it is not evil that causes destruction, but it is the tolerance towards evil that is the real culprit. Albert Einstein has rightly remarked, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
Hence, authors, intellectuals, and philosophers must not remain as mute spectators to irregularities as they are the source of ideas and insights in any society. They play a crucial and constructive role to keep the societies in order. They are the bridge between the government and the people. They are the brain behind several revolutions in the history who provided direction to the rulers during crises. Because of these reasons, the intellectuals, philosophers and authors are included as advisories and consultants for various organizations and boards. The government also takes their services as advisories as and when required.
The onus lies with the government to ensure freedom of expression and the right to dissent which are the hallmarks of democracy. It must not treat the present protest as a manufactured dissent. It must not suppress the views of people as they provide the right feedback to the government, not the political parties in opposition. Since the opposition parties have a political agenda and strategies to pull down the government, given the fact that they too want to come to power in the next election, the parties in power must listen to the pulse of the people and make decisions accordingly to ensure a vibrant democracy.
Indian culture teaches tolerance, preaches tolerance and practices tolerance. There are only a few disgruntled politicians and people with religious connections who are creating havoc in India currently. The leaders at the top must send their stern message to these disgruntled elements whenever any atrocities occur without any fear or favour. It helps check the climate of intolerance in the bud, and we can avoid the present spiraling of returning of awards by authors and intellectuals.
Indian religious leaders must avoid their irresponsible utterances to create a climate of tolerance and goodwill. In a democracy, all citizens have the right to express their opinions, but not to indulge in violence. India’s greatest strength is to absorb criticism and evolve accordingly.
To summarize, Indian democracy is very strong as it weathered several storms including the Emergency during Indira Gandhi era, riots on Sikhs in 1984, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. India is a symbol of aspirations of more than a billion people and their aspirations can be accomplished only in a democratic society by celebrating diversity. Hence, all stakeholders must work hard to create a climate of tolerance to build a healthy democratic society and a strong nation. Jai Hind!
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” — Max de Pree