India and the Theatre of Intolerance

Posted by Leepanter Bhagawati
May 1, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses banned, Mumbai Police arrested cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, Joseph Lelyveld’s biography on Gandhi banned, Anti-superstition activist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar shot dead, Apex Court makes homosexuality a crime again; these headlines are just a bite of the severe disease our country is suffering at the moment.

#Intolerance was the trending hashtag a few days back. It all started with an incident when one minor, belonging to this bisected country of majorities and popular beliefs, was ceased to consume something, which his religion permits. That was the point when the barrage came. Some people, still with their mindsets of upper class, took the autonomy that day to decide someone’s menu. After that, people ubiquitously started airing their bigotry, by means of their respective platforms, like anything.

What Intolerance is all about?

Intolerance, as a dictionary defines, is the unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own. This concept of intolerance is not new for our country. It has been there since ages like, hundreds of films and books had been banned, many artists and performers criticized and boycotted even before, just under the slippery slope of ‘hurt feelings’ or hurting sentiments. The biggest example is “The Emergency” of 1975, when the press was censored, political opponents jailed and the freedom of expression was suspended. As stated it is not something unexperienced by India previously, but this thing got a massive blow or was wafted by the rise of internet. In the present-day, with so many satirist or comedians condemned, it is the undying impression that law in this country does not have the complete free speech, there are boundaries for people, and this is expanding. Over the years, intolerance has suppressed various fields of human endeavor and creativity by the beliefs and conviction of a certain group. Reality is, a country can be judged, whether it is fully democratic or not by the extent of dissent permitted to its citizens. It is evaluated by the acceptance among the citizens that people may differ in their opinions and beliefs, so they should have equal rights in voicing them without fear of legal penalties or social sanctions. What we need at the moment, is to grow up and not just become aRepublic of the offended.

 Does Intolerance exist only in India?

No, take example of USA, France, Australia, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and many others in the world. USA with Trump and his policies, France and its tension with Muslim citizens, Australia and its racism, Burma, North Korea, Iraq all are well known for their religious intolerances, but is this a relief for India. In which direction is our country heading? This is the first question we need to answer now. Among such intolerant countries we also have countries like Zimbabwe, who in spite of being poverty stricken, famous for their famine, plague and unwritten dictatorship; decriminalized defamation, the so-called core of intolerance. Irony is, in 2013, even UK decriminalized defamation, the law, which passed down to us from the British era.

We are a democratic country, thus if government or any social influencer is messing up with our future in this country, then we should have the freedom to call out. What really affronts a citizen of India is the Reasonable Restrictions Clause in Article 19(2) of Indian Constitution, through which our freedom of expression can be curbed for vague terms like ‘morality’, ‘defamation’ or ‘public order’, which does not make any sense. This clause gives free right to the offended to file cases against anyone and the biggest sarcasm of India is that, you can go to jail for 2 years for a defamation case and on the other hand, maximum jail sentence for assault under section 352 is just 3 months. It is a serious issue that many authors and writers are jailed, simply because they gave their opinions.

Should India live with it forever?

“Your freedom ends, where my nose begins”

We may comply with this thought, but in India, our noses are growing longer. A country with 1.3 billion population, where lethal social issues like Naxalite, Maoist, Insurgency, overpopulation, poverty, public health, debt bondage are still unresolved, where the number of farmers committing suicide is intensifying, in a country where our drains are cleaner than our national river, getting offended easily is not an option. The real thing to be offended about, is the mockery that intolerance is our national nature.

Freedom of speech is the part of a healthy democracy and India has recently taken a commendable step by scraping section 66A, which is going to safeguard our online freedom of speech, but there is still a long way to go. This only shows us a light that India will not live with intolerance forever. Practicing tolerance should become the moral duty of every single citizen of this country, otherwise our democracy will be under siege in the near future.

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