Don't paint India as an intolerant nation: An open letter to all intellectuals

By Tarun Khanna | Last Updated: Nov 25, 2015, 10:14 AM IST

Dear respectable intellectuals of this country,

In India, there is no curb on exhibiting one’s views in public — a freedom that can only be enjoyed in a democratic framework. Even then, complications arise when a section of self-righteous people meddles with the social ethos of the country.

The ongoing squabble and mewling over ‘growing intolerance’ have left me perturbed. I and many others are in no capacity to adjudicate whether India is tolerant or intolerant.

Going by your intellect, intolerance has seeped deep into Indian society and is humiliating the secular conscience of the county. But, as we look around, India seems to us a far more secular and tolerant place than many countries across the globe – instances of which make headlines almost daily. Yet, there is always a scope for improvement and we Indians are awakening to it.

However, your recent protest #intolerantIndia has dragged us back to the age when Indians were labelled as small-minded bigots who were intolerant to accept any reasoning. I'm appalled to know that ignoble beliefs of a few mean a lot to you than progressive vision of the masses.

Whatever little residue is left of the narrowness today is due to your partisanship. You have always held one offender accountable, but have conveniently let go off the other in incidents of similar nature. This caused a wide stir in the society that disturbed the balanced structure of secularism. Anyway, none of the offenders represents India. But, when you generalise the country as intolerant, you accuse me, my family and thousands of those who never favoured any intolerant conduct.

You have cited the examples of Dadri lynching and Dalit killings to support your claim. But, today's law abiding India sees these incidents as cold-blooded murders in which law must aptly punish the culprits. Debates over intolerance and tolerance were beside the point and diverted the whole focus elsewhere.

And, if your definition of intolerance is confined to that of abuses on social networking sites these days, then they are the byproducts of 'Freedom of Speech' for which we once fought unitedly. Now, what can you expect from a hog but a grunt?

I would have certainly synchronised my voice with that of yours protesting against such incidents, had you been showing the same outrage in the past too. Today, it seems to me more of a political gimmick than a crusade. Meting out punishment to a few criminals and letting those of the past go free is no specimen of fair-mindedness. Strangely, it took you more than 60 years to realise that intolerance still has some imprints left in India. And sadly the realisation happened at a time when we are collectively working to wipe them off our shores. To be more accurate, your outrage seems obsolete as every rational citizen of this country has moved on from the gory of the past and embracing development.

The reach of your ultra-modern and flashy outrage is restricted to the cocoon you live in. Why did you not engage in a straight dialogue with the government over the matter before taking the protest in public? You are protesting from TV screens and highly-revered podiums to interact with the gentry. The downtrodden are unaffected by whom you curse and whom you please.

Criticism is always welcome in democratic set up. Without criticism, intolerant forces may rise again and take the nation back to the dark dungeons. Good that you have begun to think this way. But, is it not your social responsibility to make attempts to bring justice to the past pogroms and incidents of intolerance which can possibly set a right precedent for today and tomorrow. Weeding out trouble from its root is wiser than doing cosmetic cementing.

Democracy had died a thousand deaths during Emergency, 1984 riots, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, 2002 Gujarat riots, 1968 Kilvenmani massacre, Karamchedu massacre, Ranvir Sena atrocities, Ramabai killings, Khairlanji massacre, Tumudibandh massacre, 2013 Canning riots, Muzzaffarnagar riots, Kapil Sibal’s enforcement of Freedom of Speech, banning of The Satanic Versus and murder of Narendra Dabholkar to name a few. But, none of you showed such angst that could have prevented these incidents in future. Indeed many among you flamboyantly accepted awards from the perpetrators which you are returning now.

You can only accuse a government of encouraging intolerance when the state officially supports it. Like in Emergency, state lawfully curtailed people’s rights. Besides this, when Rajiv Gandhi, who was to sworn in as next prime minister of India after his mother’s death, justified 1984 riots, stating ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes".

However, by selectively picking up the incidents, you are not fighting against intolerance, but giving more power to the forces that destroyed India in the past. Your morality oscillates only around 2002 and post-2014, rest was the period of Ram Rajya.

The renouncing of awards is something which is beyond my understanding. Most of you are globally recognised and were also conferred with many international awards. That being so, your social responsibilities towards the world should go parallel with that of your nation. Then why only Indian awards? Are they of little value to you? Knowing the intolerance mounting in the world, laureates like Arundhati Roy should take a lead in returning their international honour. It's time for world to realise that it is really going soft on growing intolerance.

PS: Intolerant views of fringe elements can be termed trivial, but how to ignore prejudiced positions of people who are held in high esteem and honour.

No #bhakt, #InternetHindu or a part of any fringe group, I’m just your fellow citizen Tarun Khanna.