Good tolerance, bad tolerance and the rise of Aunty National

Kishwar Desai
Kishwar DesaiFeb 27, 2016 | 12:03

Good tolerance, bad tolerance and the rise of Aunty National

At last Parliament has begun to function, and we have realised that most Parliamentarians can rise and speak! Their speeches range from the excellent, to the good, to the meandering, to the yawningly boring, but at least they are speaking or simply "speechifying"! And the irritatingly incessant screaming and shouting, and rushing into the "well" has come to a halt.

Even if it is a temporary respite, it is welcome! (I sometimes wonder what they would do if the Parliament House was redesigned like the British Parliament, where opposing sides are but a sword-length away from each other. Would they rush at the Speaker of the House?)


Sadly, it took the death of one student and the incarceration of three others for the grandstanding opposition to grow up.

Among the more interesting speeches included that of the finance minister, Arun Jaitley. Having been a student leader himself, who was jailed during the Emergency, he made the distinction between dissent, debate and "hate speeches". And this difference is what we must think through carefully, as many other countries are similarly grappling with this very contemporary predicament.

There is little doubt that students experiment with ideology and issues. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes not . Ruthless handlers can manipulate them because their idealism and openness makes them automatic rebels. There is also a peculiar joy in going against authority, when you are young. As Jaitley remarked,  far too many of us did things as students that we could not even dream of today.

And while I am at risk of being called Aunty National (I am getting T-shirts printed with that self description to distribute to my friends) I think we need to delve deeper into the fact that many of us hold on fast to the opinion that all freedoms are precious. It sounds good, but is it really true?


Dump censorship, we say, it's old-fashioned. If you don't like it, just don't read the book, or watch that movie. Our poison might be nectar for someone else. But can we extend the same logic to those whose words we might not like?

Isn't it true that within even the heart of the most liberal, lurks perhaps, a tiny spark of intolerance? Take the current scenario. The same friends who say they support Umar Khalid, will also tell you to boycott Arnab Goswami! So is this debate also about good tolerance and bad tolerance? And who decides what is good or bad?

How can anyone who says "let a thousand flowers bloom" , ban those who have a contrarian point of view? This might be a contentious issue, but the best part is, we are learning to talk about this, instead of beating each other up. We are slowly beginning to reveal our true selves, but is it also time for us to examine if we are constantly being judgmental and imposing boundaries on others?

For the first time in many decades, Parliament is teaching us the way. From this one single session, we have got a true glimpse of the vibrancy that exists in our country, a kaleidoscopic view of the myriad shades of opinion.


At last, as parliamentarians laid out before us the subtle nuances in a difficult debate - our very noisy democracy is finding its voice.

Last updated: February 27, 2016 | 20:30
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