The Blurring Of Distinction Between Intolerance And Tolerance
Ever since the government of the day came to power almost a year and half ago, we have witnessed several incidents of targeted killings and hate-crimes against dalits, tribals and minorities.
What is important to note is that this is done brazenly, openly with a sense of triumphalism and the government has not taken any action -- utterly failing to do its constitutional duties. From the targeted killing of dissenting rational voices such as Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi to the murder of Mohsin Sheikh for just being Muslim, or lthe ynching of Mohd Akhlaque on mere suspicion of having eaten beef, the burning of a Dalit family in Faridabad and the police stripping a Dalit family publicly in Ghaziabad, attacks on Churches and many more such incidents can be cited.
These have spawned a heated debate about India becoming intolerant in recent times and several writers, academicians, artists, intellectuals and film makers have returned their awards as a mark of protest against increasing instances of violence in country. Those belonging to the ruling class have invented their own logic of negating any claim of India becoming intolerant. We are informed that those returning their awards or expressing concern over rising intolerance in the country are doing so out of their personal political motives and it has been termed as manufactured dissent. Quite unsurprisingly, statements such as ‘send them to Pakistan’; ‘Go to Pakistan’ are being used to trivialize the dissenting voices.
'Intolerance' as it is being deployed to explain what one is witnessing around in contemporary times seems to emanate as the binary opposite of ‘tolerance’. The term ‘intolerance’, as it is being used to make sense of increasing violence, has implicated meaning that the times preceding was marked by tolerance and thus suggests an unprecedented sporadic outburst of violence. Now will this idea that ‘tolerance’ preceded the ‘intolerance’ of contemporary times will withstand the blow of facts is another question that needs to be explored separately. The term ‘tolerance’, and the opposite pole of ‘intolerance’ here, has ingrained in itself the potentialities of becoming intolerant thus is reinforcing the existing relations of domination and subordination, where the tolerance of the dominant is a privilege for the subordinated.
The ‘intolerance’ debate also appears to mark a break from the history of continued persistence of inequalities based on caste, religion, class, gender, etc. Those who are destined to receive differential treatment from society and state are the marked citizens and the term ‘intolerance’ brutally subverts their prolonged quest for justice and emancipation. In a way, it tends to subvert the very existence of all such aberrations thus cleansing the not so pretty past of all its aberrations.
Can we afford to deny the fact that mere glance at history of the post-colonial India is replete with bloodshed of the Dalits, Tribals, Minorities and those at the peripheries unleashed by the state as well as non-state actors? Dalits have been vulnerable to all forms of violence, stigma and segregation in our caste ridden society. Tribals have been victim of the middle-class project of development. They have been robbed off their culture, history and livelihood time and again to fuel the ambitions of development. Minorities have witnessed hate-crimes, discrimination, mass-violence, pogroms and segregation. Those at the peripheries have been victims of the much flaunted ‘idea of India’.
What intrigues me the most at the moment is that, if at all, the contemporary time is witnessing a tremendous rise in ‘intolerance’ then what is it that tends to generate it? How to make sense of the categories, idioms and language being used? How to read Rajnath Singh’s statement citing Dr. Ambedkar as an example while reacting to Aamir Khan’s statement expressing concern on rising intolerance? Why is a certain section is being bluntly advised to go to Pakistan not only by elected members of Parliament but also by any Hindutva Tom, Dick or Harry?
Each of the issues mentioned above might be different in terms of its context, specificities, time and space yet what connects them is the ‘prejudice’ at play. Gyanendra Pandey has bisected ‘prejudice’ into two categories-‘vernacular’ and ‘Universal’. ‘Vernacular’ prejudices are local, embedded in our common sense and overt acts of discrimination against Dalits, Blacks, Immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Women, Gays etc. The ‘vernacular’ prejudices are occasionally acknowledged and the state believes it could possibly be contained through legislations and laws. While the ‘universal’ passes off as natural. It is ingrained into the very conception of the ‘modern’ as it has come to be understood and is laden in everydayness of our lives. It is the ‘universal’ ingrained into the modern discourses of nationalism that has positioned the dominant section or social groups as the natural proprietor of the land while simultaneously rendering all except that dominant section or social group as the marked citizen of State. This negates the popularly held belief that there exists a homogenous nationhood and citizenry. In the Indian situation that dominant section or social group is the modern enlightened upper caste Hindu.
Much of the atrocities by the state as well as non-state actors upon the marked citizens shall be understood in this context. The recent instances of violence are being condemned quite vehemently, which is a positive sign, but the marked citizens of state have constantly been subjected to it. Much of the violence which the ‘intolerance’ debate is attempting to address tends to emanate from the ‘prejudice’ of whose most explicit manifestation results in physical violence. But simultaneously it also tends to completely brush aside the entire history of systematic, institutionalized and continued violence thus facilitating a sort of collective surrender to amnesia.
The prejudice gets expressed in myriad complex ways and is so deeply embedded into modes of our thinking and common sense that it is difficult to scrutinize it. Time and again it has been expressing itself. It is reflected when people with Muslim names are advised to go to Pakistan since they are excluded from what constitutes the very notion of ‘Indian’. It got reflected when while debating ‘Hindu Code Bill’ Dr. Ambedkar was insulted by his fellow upper-caste colleagues and his lower caste origins were evoked. It should also be noted here that Rajnath Singh’s recent statement made taking a jibe at Aamir Khan that Dr. Ambedkar was also humiliated and insulted but he never thought of leaving the country is an attempt to trivialize and naturalize the discrimination Dr. Ambedkar was subjected to thus completely eclipsing the Brahamanical character of the state.
The argument being thrown at us is that every Indian should be proud of his country and those claiming it to have become intolerant is tainting the image of country. Here the ‘Indian’ tends to subsume all other identities and locations of people. But the question is that whether it is actually so inclusive or not. The very underlying presumption of the ‘Indian’ is the existence of a homogenous nationhood and citizenry. Therefore, it primarily denies the very existence of marked citizens keep aside acknowledging their historical disadvantages and contemporary disabilities.
Pandey explains that there exists an unmarked modern and unmarked citizen merely into the constructs of the dominant section or social group emanating from its own historical privilege and political dominance. Given all this, now it is understandable why certain sections would deny any rising instances of violence or why the claims of rising instances of violence will be confronted with charges of tainted country’s image.
Another very important conceptual tool to develop a better understanding of the counter arguments is the concept of ‘location’ which is employed by Sociologist Neshat Quaiser in ‘Locating the Indian Muslim Mind’ (published in Sage journal of ‘History and Sociology of South Asia’, 2012) . The central argument of Quaiser is that how elite Muslims have foregrounded their role in India’s history. Quaiser shows the ways in which they considered their inherited location as pre-ordained, and how that became the organizing principle for sustaining the relations of domination with an agenda of restorational politics. Therefore, no surprise that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University was not in favour of modern education being given to lower-caste Muslims. ‘Locations’ are used to validate status thus positioning people at superior positions which tend to reinforce the prejudices. I think the ‘location’ argument could well be extended to those arrogantly denying the increasing instances of violence in country.
The ‘intolerance’ debate appears to sink the horrors of partition, caste violence, communal violence, state-repression, Salwa Judam, AFSPA etc. The ‘Intolerance’ debate appears to make us forget, at least temporarily, that 1984 carnage ever happened, Bhagalpur witnessed most gruesome communal violence in 1989, Gujarat 2002, Bathanitola, Laxmanpur-Bathe, Kandhamal, and Muzaffarnagar, that mass-graves were ever found in Punjab, North-East and Kashmir. This is the best time to reflect upon such issues and dwell upon them. The increasing instances of violence cannot be checked until its roots are traced and are viewed upon as product of a certain history of persistent structured inequalities and discrimination. (Areeb Rizvi is a postgraduate student of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia and is a commentator on contemporary social and political issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an Opinion piece that appears in Young Citizen).