By Fr Paul Melwyn, Pamedi, Capuchin
Nov 30: A nation-wide debate on the issue of intolerance in India is on. Aamir Khan's public comment about intolerance that creates fear of insecurity and his concern over social climate stirred a storm and sparked a controversy. No doubt, an alarming rise of incidents of intolerance with aggression and violence is deeply troubling. Three scholar-rationalists were assassinated in as many years. In 2013, Narendra Dabholkar, in 2015, Govind Pansare and Dr Kalburgi were killed. The death of Bismarque Dias on November 5, 2015, a social activist and a vocal environmental campaigner, in Goa, is now suspected as homicide. Sudheendra Kulakarni was smeared with black ink. The face of independent MLA Engineer Rashid was blackened using ink for defying the ban on beef. Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali was forced to cancel his concert. In Dadri, mob killed a man over the rumours that he had eaten beef. And the common people including me join the chorus of intolerance and hatred circulating news, using abusive language and shouting obscenities at anybody and everybody.
Writers, scientists, historians, artists, filmmakers, historians, and intellectuals have voiced their concern at the instances of intolerance in the country. They, as a spontaneous protest are returning their awards. To counter this protest Anupam Kher led "March for India" rally, with a few Bollywood names, writers, singers to tell the world that "India is tolerant". Interacting with them Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "Indian culture goes beyond tolerance and talks of acceptance." But was not vocal enough to express his concern. However, one can recall President Pranab Mukherjee’s words referring to growing incidents of intolerance. He expressed his "apprehension whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent are on the wane" in India.
There are two issues here: Tolerance and acceptance. Indians take pride in extolling their virtue of tolerance. Worldwide, Indiais lauded for its tolerance, its capacity to assimilate, absorb and accommodate different cultures and religions. India "the glorious land of tolerance," said Swami Vivekananda. Taking a stand on Hinduism, he proclaimed that what it does not tolerate is intolerance. In Gandhi’s view, Hinduism is "the most tolerant of all religions" known to him. He was convinced that no harmony and peace was possible without tolerance of people of other religions, customs and traditions. For Gandhi to treat all religions as equal was to practice the virtue of tolerance (sahishnutha).
Indian culture goes beyond tolerance. Narendra Modi has just repeated what was said by the visionaries and great souls in the past. There is something more than tolerance that society needs, namely acceptance. Tolerance is a virtue that implies that while one may dislike or be uncomfortable with something different, or consider it as being inferior and defective one may be willing to live with it. For Swami Vivekananda, "Toleration means that I think you are wrong and I am allowing you to live". He was more for acceptance than tolerance of other religions. In his view mere tolerance implies the notion of the superiority of one religion over the others which are tolerant. It means, as he himself noted, that other faiths are less true or even wrong and yet they are allowed to exist. Therefore, he wished people to accept other religions on the basis of equality and not just on toleration.
Mahatma Gandhi too, had a similar view of tolerance which "may imply a gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one’s own." He felt that it was not our efforts towards uniting two religions with two different world-views but our efforts in uniting hearts that required virtue of tolerance. It is true that no harmony and peace is possible without tolerance of other religions, but paying equal respect to all religions far more worthy than being just tolerant. Acceptance goes beyond tolerance. It implies assent to the reality of difference and approves it. While in religious tolerance one puts up with other religions, in acceptance one is in favour of and approves of other religions.
The Global Foundation for Civilization Harmony (GFCH) was launched on 23 January, 2008, in New Delhi. One of the objectives of the Foundation is not just to tolerate people of other religions but to have recourse to the Gandhian view of equal respect for all religions. This objective is stated "to bring about a paradigm shift in thinking from the now prevailing notion of tolerance to that of acceptance of all faiths in achieving peace and harmony based on an ideal mutual accommodation."
The virtue of tolerance is not an idea but an acquired human behaviour. It can be formal or real. Formal tolerance accepts the differences butwith prejudices. It is negative and the prejudices of other religions result in "arrogance and ostracism". Real tolerance, on the other hand, acknowledges difference with respect, puts aside prejudices, indifference and attempts to learn from the other, which leads all to the virtue of "solidarity" which implies that we are all in "one boat".
One religion (dharma), one race (jati), one culture (sanskriti) are not the needs of India. The need of the moment is the cultivation of virtues like tolerance, mutual respect, an acceptance of and trust in adherents of other religions, which will help to promote peace and harmony, thereby making India a peace-loving fraternity. Fraternity (bandhutva) is one of the four objectives mentioned in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Fraternity assures the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of India as one country or nation. The celebration of the Constitution Day in India, every year on November 26 lead us to ponder over issues of intolerance and enlighten us to celebrate peace and harmony, possible only through mutual acceptance.May the noble philosophy of Sanathana Dharma, expressed in the peace-chant (shanti-mantra) found in the Taittiriya Upanishads become the chant of every India citizen:
Om, may God protect us,
May God nourish us,
May we work for the good of humanity,
May our learning be brilliant and purposeful,
May we never turn against one another (II.1.1)