Are we intolerant?

Everyone has something to say about the recent Aamir Khan fiasco that became instant national news. Did Aamir Khan expect anything less? I’m sure he didn’t, after all what he said wasn’t anything slight either. He spoke of the ‘growing disquiet’, but to mention ‘moving out of India’ at a public forum – this statement was bound to get many spewing vitriol.

“When I chat with Kiran at home, she asks, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make. She fears for her child. She fears what the atmosphere around us will be… That does indicate that there is this sense of growing disquiet, there is growing despondency apart from alarm.”

Yes, we may all agree, that being in a position of privilege, a famous director, producer and screenwriter, wife of a celebrated actor, what would she exactly have to fear? The couple and their family are even protected from the very incident, physically at least, with a multitude of guards at their very doorstep. How many have this very privilege? Narendra Dabholker, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, among many, certainly did not. And certainly not all those deaths that didn’t even receive any attention from the media and other ‘outspoken patriots’, and remain unknown to the public.

Of course, the people along the lower strata, the lower class and middle class segments feel the heat, but only celebrities and HNIs can talk about leaving the country, about taking the easier option as they have a multitude of choices. And they really wouldn’t know what it is to be part of a minority group, being the lesser privileged in society and constantly worrying about tell-tale signs of disharmony in the local community.

And yet, they (Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao) are not completely in the wrong. In all this, the real crux of the matter is getting lost, because the essence of his statement was on the growing discord and rising uneasiness.

Mr. Khan definitely did voice his opinions, and yes, the entire rigmarole of ‘because India is tolerant so we can speak our mind and not be stoned’ factor does come into play. Many do compare India’s tolerance level with that of neighbouring states and those in the Middle East, but we are different from them. Neither are we Bhutan or Switzerland. Sweeping statements of such generalisation cannot be made. That is dangerous. From both sides, be it those who support Khan, and those who don’t.

I do not subscribe to the view that India is intolerant, but I will also not say that there is no discord in the country at any moment. Being the largest democracy where every group has the right to voice his or her own opinion, even the marginalised and those not recognised by the state (LGBTQI), I will agree to the fact that certain incidents over the last 18 months have been worrisome for many. Take for instance the murder of MM Kalburgi, an outspoken Indian rationalist scholar who had denounced superstition and idol worship, in August this year, or the killing of CPI leader Govind Pansare who had penned a biography titled Shivaji Kon Hota, in February 2015. Even till date, the killers of Narendra Dabholkar, the founder-president of Maharashtra-based Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti — an organisation set up to eradicate superstition, who was killed in August 2013, have not been caught by the police.

One can add to this, the series of targetted attacks carried out on churches in Delhi last year, at Dilshad Garden, Vikaspuri, Vasant Kunj, Jasola, Rohini and Vasant Vihar. Many debate that these were hyped and not premeditated, but considering that these did not take place in the past seven years that I have stayed in the capital, my mind does ponder on the objective of the attacks. And even the riots that took place in Trilokpuri and in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, are unsettling.

Yes, in India, we do have the right to Freedom of Speech, and Aamir Khan was not wrong to have ‘voiced his opinion’, but one must think carefully to what the impact of our words may have on others. And all those who say they want to leave this country are massively outnumbered by those who demand they should leave.


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