Which intolerance is growing in India?

It is perhaps the increasing non-toleration of opinions different from one’s own.

 |  7-minute read |   27-11-2015
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Increasingly loud voices are to be heard from different capital cities in India about growing intolerance in Indian society. The western press picks up echoes and magnifies them, while ridiculing Modi’s visit to Great Britain. While one can understand that Indians chant mantras, why are Europeans reproducing them? Looking from the outside, this is a very puzzling phenomenon. Because it is unclear what exactly is at stake here, I’d like to raise some questions and reflect about them.

Perhaps it is the case that some people are protesting against murders in the name of “intolerance”. May be, it is true that people are murdered because the others are intolerant of them. But people are not protesting against increasing crime rate in India. India does not lead the world in terms of murders.

It could be that people see growing intolerance in murders of specific people. Consider, for example, the case of Kalburgi which sparked off the controversy. Kalburgi was an intolerant man in many senses of the term. He was intolerant of murthi-puja, which, with the glorious pretention characteristic of Indian intellectuals, he called idol worship not knowing what that word signifies in Semitic theology or why it is a sin. He was totally intolerant of ideas that differed from his: he led a delegation of similar people to meet the owner of a Kannada daily newspaper successfully demanding that a column gets shut downbecause it propagated an unorthodox interpretation of Veerashaiva thinkers in Karnataka. He led another delegation to meet the current congress chief minister in Karnataka asking and effectively shutting down a research centre because he did not like its scientific research results. From the time he was the vice-chancellor of Hampi University to his last day, stories abound about his moral and intellectual integrity that puts the legendary Chhota Rajan to shame. It is completely unclear whether his intolerance led to his murder or, as dominant stories circulating in Karnataka say, it has to do with his allegedly loose morals. Thus, if murdering intolerant people indexes the growth of intolerance in India, what exactly if being asked for? Murder of tolerant people?

The story of Dadri lynching is the next alledged example of growing intolerance in India. The story not made popular by the press suggests that the lynched Muslim stole a cow from the stables of another person. In the United States, for centuries on end, people who stole cows and horses were lynched. This practice was also rather frequent in the UK. While indeed such lynching isinimical to modern legal system, calling it an exhibition of growing intolerance is to exhibit an abysmal ignorance of human history.

Even then, how should we respond to the fact that the next day, in a place near Mangalore, a street vendor who sold flowers was clubbed to death? Nobody speaks of intolerance on this issue presumably because the flower seller was a Hindu and the youths that clubbed him to death were Muslims. Perhaps they want to say that the growing intolerance has to do with murdering a Muslim. If that is the case, what do we say about the Muslim countries of the last decades? Muslims are slaughtering each other with a hatred not shown even towards dogs and cattle: Sunnis and Shias are murdering each other, blowing helpless people into smithereens, supported by this or that ruling faction in government. Yet, one does not say that there is growing intolerance in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon. Instead, they only say that there is an ongoing war against terrorism. So, when slaughtering Muslims is tolerated and cheered across the globe, one cannot say that the genteel folk in India see a growing intolerance in this society because of the murder of a single Muslim, while they maintain stony silence about blasts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is perhaps the growing intolerance about non-toleration of opinions different from one’s own? Two examples should suffice to answer this question. First, a mentally unstable person, called Venkat, also known as crazy Venkat, was dismissive of Ambedkar in a popular television programme. He called Ambedkar his slippers but no newspaper dared repeat what he said, except to mention that he made derogatory and abusive remarks about Ambedkar. It is completely unclear why derogatory and abusive remarks cannot be made about an individual. Characteristic of Indian colloquial speech is abusiveness towards everyone, including the Indian gods. Is Ambedkar superior to the Indian gods as well? The Ambedkarites in Bangalore surrounded this Venkat in the car for this remark, mauled and manhandled him and threw black tar on his face for this reason. The second instance concerns me: in an international conference held recently in Hyderabad, I was intellectually dismissive of Ambedkar and called him an idiot (I genuinely regret this choice of adjective: I should have said, “he outshines the genius of Alia Bhatt”).This “abuse” (as it is termed) has launched a campaign against me by the Ambedkarites in India: (a) asking the president of India to sanction me; (b) writing to the Honorary counselof the Indian Embassy in Brussels to revoke my visa and to prevent me from entering India in the future; (c) joining up with an LTTE group in Belgium, these Ambedkarites have complained to the rector of my university hoping that she would sanction me; (d) there is also a massive internet hate campaign against me in progress, including (e) complaints against me with the SC/ST commission, with the vice-chancellor of the university and governor of Hyderabad and (f) various vicious personal attacks on me. I was even subtly threatened with physical violence. Some Ambedkarite Christians (apparently they have no problems in worshipping two Gods) have even gone and complained against me for disturbing communal peace because I criticised some aspects of Christian theology, namely some elements of Christology.

These two incidents tell us that Ambedkarites are very intolerant of anybody who dares to criticise Ambedkar. However, this intolerance was a creation of Indira Gandhi in her attempt to break Jagjivan Ram that became a national policy in India. These Ambedkarites were fed, fattened and made intolerant by every single government beginning with Indira Gandhi. True, intolerance is growing against any criticism of any kind against Ambedkar; but this must be put at the doorstep of all the political parties beginning of Indira Gandhi’s Congress. The prime minister of India and the chief minister of Maharashtra of today are themselves so frightened of this growing intolerance that they miss no chance to declare their undying and eternal love and reverence for the Bodhisattva Babasaheb Ambedkar. No single intellectual has dared to criticise Ambedkar, with the possible exception of a journalist like Arun Shourie. However, this terrorist campaign of Ambedkarites has been going on for more than fourdecades but strangely this is not the growing intolerance which people are talking about.

Consequently, the question arises: which intolerance is being talked about and who is promoting it? Isn’t it the case that the Congress party massacred the Sikhs but no intellectual responded in the fashion they are doing today? It is the same Congress party which is ruling in Karnatakaand is threatening politically neutral youth groups and youth movements with police complaints and court cases because they dare express their criticism about the government policies and challenge some of the dogmas of the Ambedkarites. Are we to assume then that intolerance is such a plastic word that one uses it to simply tarnish political opponents? One can imagine a Modi attacking a Rahul Gandhi about the latter’s intolerance; I can imagine a wannabe politician looking for a political position attacking Modi for being intolerant; sad though it is, I know many JNU and DU intellectuals jumping on this bandwagon hoping for a plump position in a commission. What amazes me is that no intellectual in India is even raising the issue about what the the current growth of intolerance means. Is one to assume that the last decades of reservation policy has inducted only servile and self-serving people to occupy the function of Indian intellectuals? If it is the case, as I suspect it to be, it is indeed a very sorry state of affairs that portends a disaster for the future. If it is not the case, I really would like to be proved wrong regarding my suspicion, here is my challenge to what is left of the Indian intellectuals: where are you, when intellectual pluralism is being slaughtered by the Ambedkarites? What are you doing when you fail to bring clarity to the obviously politically orchestrated campaign that prostitute ideas which intellectual your ancestors died fighting for? Have you really sold your souls to the Devil for a bowl of Mulligatawny (pronounced as “Malagu-tanni” in colloquial Tamil) soup?


SN Balagangadhara SN Balagangadhara

The author is a professor at the Ghent University in Belgium, and director of the India Platform and the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cutuurwetenschap.

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