As we try to access how tolerant India is today, we first need to decipher the meaning of tolerance. According to the Oxford dictionary, tolerance is “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with”.
While Socrates developed the idea of ignorance which can be understood when linked to the virtues of self-control, modesty, and tolerance. Socrates’ main goal was to discover truth through open-minded debate which could not be achieved without tolerance. This can be closely viewed in Plato’s dialogue, where Socrates restrains himself deliberately and claims ignorance, and allows the others to develop their own position.
On the other hand the philosopher and political theorist John Locke in his two texts “An Essay on Toleration” and “A Letter Concerning Toleration” talks about the separation of Church and State that is presented more or less explicitly and directly as a precondition for religious tolerance. Although for the purpose of social peace and public order, regulation of religious practices can remain a responsibility of government, the respect of the individual in terms of doctrines and rituals must be total, and the sovereign should have no part to play in this area. He emphasised on individual autonomy and freedom; he promoted an exclusively secular view of the creation and exercise of political institutions.
While if we look at countries like Great Britain we find that the political and religious tolerance was a result of an accumulation of concessions made by State. Whereas the founding fathers of American constitution included tolerance as a right in their Bill of Rights as part of their first ten amendments of their original text adopted, which made it illegal of the Congress to adopt any law that might lead to the establishment of a state religion or that limited the individual’s freedom of worship and expression.
Now when we view the meaning of tolerance and how it evolved as an idea in India, we come across the Buddhist and Jain philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) in ancient India. In the fifteen century, Bhakti movement gave birth to great bards by great poet Kabir who denounced the idea of intolerance among Hindu and Islamic scholars.
While in modern times Gandhi stood as a torchbearer of non-violence and tolerance to be used in the political arena through Satyagraha. The very notion of tolerance and non-violence is evident in the heated debates of the Indian Constitution Assembly between its members who came from various walk of life and ideologies from left to right, and very structure and language of the Indian Constitution.
In short, we can say that tolerance as an idea is an important pillar of a democratic nation-state, be it political, social or religious tolerance of expression, thought, identity. These are very values that our great forefathers had laid the foundation of India.
As we examine how we as citizens have fared on these values in the current scenario, we increasingly find tolerance for intolerance in our society becoming a normal phenomenon in the “New India” which has contributed to the decay of the socio-political fabric of this country.
This is well evident in the way the journalists, activists, academicians, students, peaceful protesters, and anyone who questions the establishment and dogmas of the society has become a target. Be it India’s well-known academicians like Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde and Professor Hany Babu, or the students of JNU and Jamia who had peacefully protested against the policies of the government. Or farmers protesting against the Farmers Bill or even the environment activists from Friday for Future who were booked under UAPA for opposing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 draft; have been labelled as ‘anti-nationals’ and have been assaulted badly by the powers of the State, be it through sedition laws or under UAPA and NIA.
These very instances send a chilling-effect to society at large. Social media has successfully contributed to this hate culture, be it through fake news, photos and videos or through the propaganda that is circulated, vilifying a particular community.
Since the past few years, the rising rate of hate crimes in India present quite an alarming situation in the country, be it in the form of mob-lynching which by these so-called ‘gau rakshaks’ who have specifically targeted and attacked people from the minority community; they have been forced to chant slogans such as ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’ and are ruthlessly beaten to death. Often these crimes have the support of the people in power, this can be well understood by the inciteful and communal language used by our MPs and MLAs applauding for such crimes; and the local administration, which rather than taking account of the culprits has garlanded them.
This is perhaps one of the main reasons; as the IndiaSpend data suggests, Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centred on bovine issues between 2010-17 and the 84% of Muslims were killed in this mob-violence. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported only after May 2014. It is not as if only Muslims have been attacked by these vigilante groups, but Dalits have also faced the brunt of this mob culture.
Rumours and fake messages have played a very crucial role in these crimes against Dalits and minorities as 52% of these attacks were due to rumours (according to the IndiaSpend data). The rise in frequency of these hate crimes, convey how this normalisation of mob culture has negatively impacted the communal harmony of the society.
The brutalities faced by the people in the name of ‘love jihad’,— a term launched by the extremist right-wing groups to berate individual’s right to choose their life partner, as in this case these mob groups have branded Hindu men marrying Muslim girl as a case of ‘love jihad’; these conservative mob groups have picked out such couples and have attacked them, and at times beaten to death. Well, if we define this term in true senses we find that it is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love.
Laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and National Register of Citizens (NRC) perform no less of a dangerous job than to ostracise the minorities (not only Muslims but also Dalits, Bahujans, and disadvantaged communities). The arbitrary amendments made to the already existing black laws such as the National Security Act (NSA), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, have only made these laws more draconian and they have been specifically used to cherry-pick the minorities and anyone who criticises the government for its action.
The present temperament in the country can be well compared to the fascism of Hitler; this is well evident in the report released by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which has categorised India as Country of Particular Concern and have clubbed with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar and China. This is only the second time that India got this shameful tag after the Gujarat riots (2002).
Not only this India has also slid to the lowest ranks in the United Nations Democratic Index and Global Press Freedom in the past six years, well portrays how we as a country have faired badly to protect the civil liberties and the independence of media and journalists.
We as a nation had adopted an institutional structure which is quite similar to what the political theorist Locke had described, but it seems as if, this wall of separation between State and Church (religion) is decaying at a high rate resulting in withering away of social harmony of the society.
We might argue on this that we as a nation have instances of riots, journalists being jailed, and academicians coming under attack is not a new phenomenon and therefore every time such instances take place we as citizens of a democracy should condemn it. But what is more alarming is the fact how hate crimes, censorship on media and intolerance has become a ‘new normal’ for India and the way it seems to have become a part of the society’s DNA should become a matter of concern for us as a democratic republic, and we as citizens have become ready to surrender our rights and entitlements to these demagogues.