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Opinion - The Death Of Tolerance

Parameswar Garimella

Not very long ago it was perfectly normal to be in a multi- religious setting in India. I remember the days when nobody paid any great attention to the religious identities of co-workers, neighbors or even a shopkeeper in day to day matters. Sure, there wasn't much socializing between the communities except for the liberals who made it a point to wish people of other communities in their festivals, or even take part in their festivities. But there was no great animosity either. The common man never seemed to care of the religious identity of his/her milk man, barber, maid, neighbor, boss, or policeman. It was present only as an undercurrent in communally sensitive areas which were few and far between. India was truly a multi-cultural paradise and diversity was evident in all walks of life.

This was largely true till the mid-eighties. Yes, there were many communal riots, but mostly they were localized and rarely spread beyond the local neighborhood, let alone beyond the city limit. Certainly, they did not take national character and were not the topic of conversation in middle class living rooms. The majority community never felt threatened, or at least did not act in that way. Except for some rare instances, people generally did not feel discriminated based on religion and did not carry resentment towards one another.

It was probably Advaniís Rathyatra which acted as a trigger of the mass awakening of the majority community. Other factors like the 35 years of misrule by various parties might have contributed to this phenomenon. For the first time, I heard active discussion in restaurants, offices, and other public places about how the majority community is being taken for granted. Middle class and educated Hindus started justifying violence against minorities. Moderate voices and liberals became fewer. Blanket statements like, ďIf they do not like it they can go to Pakistan.ď were heard. Everyone forgot the premise under which our founding fathers created the Indian nation: multi-cultural values preaching tolerance and respect for one another. These concepts were cemented when India became a democratic republic in 1950. In the last 50 odd years, one of the very few achievements that India can be proud of is its democratic values and its tradition of tolerance, so rare in the third world. On this score, India is compared with the developed world and taught civilized behavior to the rest of the world.

Alas, today all those values are history, well, almost. Most Indians I meet, even in the US, justify the present actions of the majority community. Even after being exposed to the liberal views of America, nobody thinks that minorities need protection. Can we imagine such a thing in the US? Thousands being burnt alive or being butchered? There were a couple of incidents after September 11 when there was an outrage in the Indian community. How can such a thing happen in America? Yet the same people thought it perfectly alright to justify slaughter of over a thousand people. Are we holding America to a much higher standard than India, as the author Dinesh DíSouza puts it?

I have heard quite a few folks often say that it is perfectly okay for India to treat its minority citizens as second class, their argument being: Saudi Arabia does so. Are we comparing ourselves to Saudi Arabia of all countries? Do we have to show the same type of militancy and intolerance Saudi Arabia shows? Do we have to stoop to such levels instead of living up to our own tradition of tolerance for the last 2000 years?

I have heard arguments from Indian Hindus that if the minority community is not checked now, Hindus will cease to exist. What can be further from the truth than this statement? Hinduism survived thousands of years of glory and prestige as well as torture, misrule, and barbarianism by invaders. It survived even without preaching its own, probably because of its values of tolerance and peace and non-violence. When barbaric rulers like Mohammud Ghauri, Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah could not decimate Hinduism in the days of lawlessness, how can it be destroyed in the most civilized time period? The greatness of Hinduism is its values and it will always keep it alive.

We do not have to import militancy from other religions to distort Hinduism. Islam and Christianity have great teachings. It is the fringe elements of fundamentalism that are at war with the rest of the world. We do not have to import this brand of militancy and weaken the quintessential teachings of Hinduism. It is my sincere hope that the people who are trying to hijack our great heritage of tolerance and copy the militancy preached by fringe elements do not succeed. We need to work towards an India that will strengthen its secular nature and become a world power both culturally and economically.

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