I would like to begin with a statement. “We as a society have forgotten tolerance“. The rope that binds us to the society and with others is made up of many threads. Tolerance is one of them and it is missing. The rope has been weakened. It is only a matter of time before we forget human dignity and the love we should have for our neighbour too. It is only recently that I started looking and taking notice of the things happening around me and the tipping point for me personally was the death of the journalist Gauri Lankesh. Partly because I was in Bangalore when she was murdered at her doorstep. People die every day. Journalists know the risks that come with their job and they accept it. But Gauri was mocked and ridiculed even after her death. My only question at the time was, “What did she do to deserve this?”.
Yesterday while scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a photo of a dead body. The only part shown in the picture was the feet engulfed in fire. The comment section was filled with people trying to show their offence at the photographer for clicking a dead person’s photo. Why should a society who is alarmed just at the site of a dead body abuse a dead person? It took me some time to understand.
Role of Power in propagating Intolerance
The aftermath of Gauri Lankesh’s death was the mourning from all around the nation. But there were also people abusing her on Twitter. They belonged to the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and some were even followed by PM Narendra Modi. A tweet, for example, read “Naxal sympathiser and Senior journalist Gauri Lankesh shot dead at her residence in Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwari Nagar“. Gauri Lankesh had been very outspoken about many things that she saw happening around BJP. Again, this was her job and she was murdered for it because some people or party did benefit from this.
Ira Glass in his podcast, “This American Life“, talks about how star players who are established and have gained significant influence through their hard work in the game, they now try to pressure the referees to make decisions that support their gameplay. If the referees don’t do as asked then the player’s fans start to make death threats. Glass says, “I think, American life just now has at least one thing in common with basketball– the authority of its referees is under attack. If people don’t trust the refs, one day you wake up in a world that seems not just unfair but actually sort of rigged– that is, it’s incapable of becoming fair because the people who benefit from the unfairness have the power to preserve it. Boom.”
The people who benefit from the unfairness have the power to preserve it. In the above two instances, you can clearly see how the powerful can manipulate or brainwash people to be intolerant towards others. They usually make use of their followers/fans, co-workers, ideological partners or people depending on them. We need to know that it is not the powerful themselves showing intolerance towards others, rather it’s their followers.
Top-Class players cannot be seen as abusing and causing a ruckus in front of the camera. If they do, their brand-deals will vanish. PM Modi never said a word against Gauri Lankesh. His followers did. But who benefitted?
Many times followers act on their own judgment in order to please the leader. But the big question is, why are people becoming intolerant towards other people? Why do people who have the power, choose to harm others? If this is true. Then aren’t we walking towards a future that is completely rigged for the powerful to oppress the others?
Vishal Mangalwadi in his book, “Missionary Conspiracy-Letters to a Postmodern Hindu“, states it beautifully. “Tolerance means to respect a person’s right to hold views contrary to one’s own. I am tolerant if I continue to respect you as a person and respect your right to propagate views which I think are false and harmful. Tolerance, thus is towards, a person and his rights, not necessarily for his beliefs or behaviour. You cannot hold that the state must be tolerant of a terrorist as that of a satyagrahi. Dissent, disagreement, debate and rational discourse are needed to help us arrive at the truth. This was an important rationale behind parliamentary democracy, modern jurisprudence, and the free press. Modern Parliaments, courts and the media are forums to debate truth. The debate is useless if it cannot possibly help us arrive at objective truth.”
A lesson on Human Dignity.
How can we dissent, disagree and debate keeping in mind the dignity of the opposite side? With intellectual conversations and writings. You see, the core of everything that we do is and should be human dignity. Once a person starts to feel that his/her dignity is at stake, there is nothing fruitful left to be gained in that conversation. Funny enough, our primetime debates are filled with hurling insults and people abusing the opposite side. Some have even gone to the extent of fist fighting in live debates. Mostly because the purpose of our debates has shifted from, “What is in the public interest?” to “What interests the public?”
It is very necessary for us to not fall for this type of journalism and we can do it only if we brush up our knowledge and thinking. If college going students – you and me, open up our minds, take part in open forums, talk to a people whose has different thinking. If we dare to have a meaningful discussion with the aim of not winning the debate but rather sharing and soaking knowledge and then deciding for ourselves, we don’t need a news anchor to tell us what is right or wrong or a politician to decide for us. If the youth of our country start to think for themselves, we are not doomed.
The core of all this is human dignity and a heart of service. It seems to me that the idea of public service is new to India. That is why our politicians are so better off than their public subjects. But that needs to change. Once you are clear that the person in front of you, though how illogical he may sound to you is a human and your heart tells you to attend to him. Not to win over him, but to share your knowledge so that he can also understand your perspective. It is then that you can have meaningful conversation and debates. Because your aim now is not to win but to help others understand. It is when you reach the truth. Dignity and a heart of service is the key.