One look at our newspapers and television channels would lead many to believe that India has suddenly become an intolerant nation, which does not value the concept diversity. Suffice to say, intolerance and a lack of respect for diversity has always plagued the country. However, with the advent of 24/7 news channels and social media, incidents of intolerance and cultural bigotry are brought into sharper focus. Some would think the proliferation of such news is a positive outcome, considering it creates greater awareness among the nation’s populace. However, the resulting overflow of information, sometimes unverified, and views on social media have blurred the real issues or reasons behind growing levels of intolerance. Looking visibly disturbed, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday spoke out for greater tolerance and the importance of protecting diversity in the country. “Pluralism is the key to our civilization and culture,” Pranab Mukherjee said. The President went on to add that what held India together was “tolerance” that “calls for respecting other religions and other views.” In his 10-minute speech, he stressed that “pluralism and tolerance have held together for ages this civilization of many languages, races, religions, with diverse anthropological features.” For the second time this month, without making a direct reference to the horrific incident in Dadri, President Mukherjee espoused the need to protect values of tolerance and pluralism. Suffice to say, there are key elements in society that can protect and respect these values.
In Bhagalpur, a nondescript town in Bihar, which had witnessed some of the most violent riots in recent memory, there were attempts to create an environment of communal polarisation last month, ahead of the upcoming assembly elections in the state. Miscreants had first left the legs of a cow in one Hindu locality and then a dead piglet was dropped inside a mosque. Despite deliberate attempts to provoke communal violence, concerned citizens from both religious communities and dedicated police were on hand to ensure peace prevailed. What the incident has taught us is that tolerance has not forsaken a place that had witnessed some of the worst violence in recent times. To ensure people respect these values, the local populace must come forward and take on these violent bigots, who seek to polarize communities along the lines of a particular identity, be it caste, nationality or religion. However, more than a responsive populace, it is the state machinery, particularly the police, that must maintain law and order. Its basic responsibility, for the maintenance of law and order, is to ensure that misinformation and violence are not disseminated in the affected area. In the event that a local populace is unresponsive, it is incumbent upon the state to maintain peace and harmony. Recent failures of the state machinery have allowed rising levels of intolerance to grow further. One look at all riots in recent memory, it is amply clear that the state failed to fulfill its basic responsibility.
Two recent incidents have precisely depicted this very failure. Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar was forced to withdraw from officiating in the remaining two matches of the ongoing India-South Africa one-day series after Shiv Sena members broke into the Board of Control for Cricket in India office in Mumbai on Monday. The Shiv Sena accosted BCCI chief Shashank Manohar and shouted at him to cancel talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shahryar Khan, besides making threats against Dar. Fearing for their safety, Pakistani commentators Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar have also decided to skip the Mumbai match and return to Pakistan. The manner, in which members of the Sena broke into the BCCI’s office in Mumbai, represents a gross failure on the Mumbai police’s part since the miscreants overpowered its personnel. The failure to gather and act on local intelligence is what perpetuates this environment of growing intolerance against anything Pakistani while giving the likes of Shiv Sena a platform to air their misplaced views on patriotism. Meanwhile, in Bangalore, a group of people harassed an Australian couple at a restaurant, after the man was seen sporting the tattoo of Hindu goddess Yellamma on his shin. These miscreants event threatened to skin the young man’s leg. However, the ordeal did not end there. Instead of ensuring the couple’s safety, the police not only detained them but also forced the man to apologise to the group for “hurting their religious sentiments.”