Greater equanimity required in understanding tolerance
A raging debate has risen in India about tolerance or, as some would argue, the reduction of it. The hypothesis about tolerance or intolerance can be objectively judged only on the basis of requisite data. However, there is a paucity of data at the current instance. Debates on the subject, on both traditional media and social media, have become supercharged without any meaningful conclusions in sight.
What constitutes intolerance? Does it mean an inappropriate legislation, denial of rights, violent incidents related to religious and other identities, irresponsible statements by government functionaries, or just plain disagreement with others’ point of view?
Until now what has been observed is mostly the fifth point - plain disagreement with another person’s point of view. Writers, poets, artists and scientists are expressing their dissent like never before by returning their awards. If intolerance indeed existed, their views and acts would have certainly been muzzled or at least attempts would have been made to do so. In fact, in India what is being witnessed is the complete opposite of intolerance. People are expressing themselves and their views like never before. That, in fact, is the basis of dissent in any democracy. Of course individual incidents in the third category have also happened - violent incidents related to identities like being rationalists, vigilante acts leading to heinous crimes and the like. The government’s functionaries could have expressed their views in a more empathetic manner. However, this does not mean that there is erosion in tolerance. Similar and sometimes even far worse incidents have happened in the country before drawing even more extreme views and inappropriate comments.
There should certainly be caution and reasonable dialogue with the government on the issue of tolerance. The lack of dialogue between government and stakeholders is being construed as increasing intolerance. Proper dialogue would ensure that concerns of all stakeholders are expressed and the measures to tackle such incidents effectively are taken by the governments both at the central and state level.
The crucial difference now, as compared to earlier, is that people are so connected with information that each incident gets magnified. The modern media, social media and various other networks ensures that information travels at the speed of light. While it acts as a great tool for access to information and awareness, it also manipulates perceptions about reality. That affects perceptions of the prevailing state of affairs and that leads to perceptions about tolerance or the lack of it in greater measure than was seen before access to information was freely available to most people.
While individual incidents can be viewed as pointers, greater intolerance can be concluded only on greater availability and analysis of data. That raises a fundamental question about the improvement of statistical systems in India pertaining to the crime. What is required is speedy and accurate updating of data. What India also requires are justice mechanisms to bring speedy justice to act. This will act as a deterrent to any prospective perpetrators of any crime. Fast track movement of such crimes will ensure that the rule of law will be strengthened.
On a societal level what is required is greater equanimity in understanding tolerance and its importance in modern constitutionally elected states. It is important that that the great multiplicity of views and voices are protected as this will lead to a greater sense of security, debate, more reasoning and critical enquiry. Tolerance is important because it is imperative for fostering creative thinking. Creative thinking is the bedrock of critical enquiry that fosters innovation. So long as one’s right to expressing a point of view is concerned there should be freedom to express what one feels like.
Tolerance for another’s point of view, as well as mutual respect for each other’s practices, is important and necessary for not only economic but also social and human progress. India’s improving stature globally on the investment front as well as on important indices like Global Competitiveness Index, Ease of Doing Index and several others will benefit greatly by ensuring that proper dialogue is in place between groups of people and the government at all levels. Also, what is required is a speedy trial for perpetrators of crimes whose acts risk India’s credibility as a society that in a very large measure has fostered creative thinking and tolerance for dissent.
(The article is co-authored with Sankalp Sharma, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness, India. Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness & Editor of Thinkers. The views expressed are strictly personal)