What is tolerance? Open any standard English dictionary and you’ll know what it means: the willingness to accept the existence of differing opinions and behaviours that may oppose your own set of protocols.
However, the concept of ‘tolerance‘ for an Indian seems to be generally restricted to a very ‘theoretical’ and ‘limited’ framework, which often refers to the coexistence of diverse religious ideologies and ethnic roots in the Indian subcontinent.
Unfortunately, this national leitmotif of ‘unity in diversity’ does not translate into our actions and beliefs, since we are riddled with prejudices and stereotypes about individuals who are ‘unlike’ us. Our hostile attitude towards people with dissimilar perceptions and disparate cultures clearly highlights that for us Indians, the true understanding of the idea of ‘tolerance’ is still quite foreign.
We are trapped in a regressive and rigid system that dictates social order, and if, by any chance, anyone dares to oppose this order, we react by using violence as the most justified means to curb this recalcitrance.
But, how does intolerance permeate into our society on such a large scale? One can argue that it all starts at the grassroots level, with the authoritarian institution called ‘family’.
JNU Professor Nivedita Menon, who is often labelled as an ‘anti-national’ for her critical opinions on popular perceptions, aptly pointed out in her book Seeing Like A Feminist that the family, as an institution, is based on inequality. She wrote, “If you bring Fundamental Rights into a family, and if every individual in the family is treated as a free and equal citizen, that family will collapse. Because the family, as it exists, is based on clearly-established hierarchies of gender and age.”
It is the family, which sustains social order by strictly policing its members “To ensure the purity and continuation of crucial identities, such as caste, race, and religion.” Therefore, when individuals are brought up in a controlling system where there is no space for open dialogue, questioning of protocols and dissent, they become increasingly frustrated, unhappy, and apathetic. This is one of the reasons why India ranks 144 out of a total of 156 nations, way below our ‘much-hated’ neighbour Pakistan (at rank 66), in the UN World Happiness Index 2020.
Given this context, how can we expect a set of frustrated individuals to be ‘tolerant’ when they are desperately looking for a means to vent their repressed feelings? Therefore, in my opinion, the first step in transforming India into a ‘tolerant’ nation is by standing up against this regressive institution that continually perpetuates hatred against inter-caste and interfaith couples, homosexuals, and gender-fluid individuals, by classifying them as ‘abnormal’ people.
It is our pent-up frustration and fixed prejudices fueled by our indifference and inability to question that allows us to become prey to vote-bank politics. Often, communal politics in India acts as a trigger for us to unleash violence on innocent social groups as we remain blinded by our hunger for retrospective vengeance. What else justifies the evils of mob lynching, cow vigilantism, and honour killing that are extensively prevalent in our society?
Here’s my question to all the cow vigilantes out there: if you are genuinely the ‘protectors’ of the sacred cow (the mother of all gods, as per the sacrosanct Vedic scriptures) then why do you not care for the thousands of cows who painfully die by choking on single-use plastics that you carelessly throw on the streets?
Has this fact stopped you from using plastic? Obviously not.
It’s high time we introspect on our actions and oppose retrograde conventions that operate within a narrow scope of understanding. Only then will we be able to embrace unconventional viewpoints and dissenting voices, and express our own perspectives without any fear of being ‘attacked’.
American philosopher, psychologist, and reformer John Deweyalso spoke about how everyone in society must have the freedom to convey their views, irrespective of their social or economic status. He said, “An environment in which some are limited will always in reaction create conditions that prevent the full development even of those who fancy they enjoy complete freedom for unhindered growth.
Thus, our ability to hear out opposing voices and actively refrain ourselves from becoming victims of ‘ill-guided politics’ and disinformation will go a long way in ensuring that the Indian society gets rid of the shackles of prejudices and, in turn, become ‘tolerant’ in the true sense.