Zero Tolerance Of Intolerance
The epidemic of returning awards given by Sahitya Akademi and other organizations as tokens of protest began with the murder of a writer in Karnataka. Two other writers, Pansare and Dabholkar, were killed in Maharashtra. All hell broke out. Indian and foreign media, which have a history of not waiting for details, shouted from housetops that there is an atmosphere of intolerance in the country and in not so subtle terms suggested that they were the work of Hindu groups. Through endless repetition, the Indian media, using such terms like hardcore, right wing, militant, saffron and majoritarian, pointed at the Hindu society as the source of intolerance.
Right-thinking people have stopped taking these award-spurners seriously. This is a healthy trend because intolerance of any kind, intellectual or otherwise, cannot be tolerated. One doubt, however. How do illiterate protestors who won no awards protest? The intellectuals know what violence they will unleash by writing, for instance, that Sita had lusted after Lakshmana. Who takes the responsibility for the damage the violence does to human life and property? If you want to have your way, the mob will demand to have its way.
There is too much arrogance in the notion that attaches primacy to the freedom of expression of an artist or writer at the expense of society. Maybe, they have returned the awards because in their humility they believed they didn’t deserve the awards as did some littérateurs some years ago.
Intolerance is not a new feature of Indian society. Neither is tolerance of intolerance. There is a long tradition of tolerance in the country that unwittingly condoned intolerance. A foot soldier of an Islamist outfit, Popular Front of India, chopped off last year the right hand of T.J.Joseph, a Kochi professor, because he had prepared a question paper with alleged derogatory references to Prophet Muhammad. The Christian college where he was a professor not only tolerated PFI’s surgical protest but sacked the professor because he had hurt religious sentiments. Nobody shed a tear for the Christian shaheed.
Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi mobilized a two-thirds majority of members present in each house of Parliament to amend Ambedkar’s constitution just to deny Muslim women the benefit of an alternative remedy outside their personal law available to them through a Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case. The intellectuals, Rajiv’s mother’s faithful ideologues, gagged themselves. The Muslim orthodoxy raised the noise necessary to compel Rajiv to amend the law.
Muslim clergy won another trophy when Rajiv Gandhi banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Rushdie might be Nobel Prize material. Not for everyone. When he wrote his The Satanic Verses, the Ayatollah of Iran passed a death sentence on him. Every believer was asked to attempt to kill him. On February 24, 1989, at least 12 people were killed and 40 wounded when the police fired at Muslims rioting in Bombay asking the government to ban the novel. Was it fair to ask Rajiv to sacrifice his vote bank when an election was shortly due? Succumbing to the intimidation of the mob, Rajiv Gandhi, promptly banned the book. Poor Rushdie is without a home in “the beloved country of my birth.” Intellectuals in the country pretended they didn’t know of the ban.
Again the mob had its way. Rushdie was advised not to participate in the Jaipur and Kolkata Literary Festivals because the Festival authorities were alerted of a threat to his life. Not a whimper from the intellectuals who were happy to shine at the festivals in his absence.
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, author of Lajja and Dwikhandito, was assaulted in the presence of loquacious intellectuals in Hyderabad where she received a death sentence also. There was hardly any protest.
One prominent Muslim who suffered for supporting Rushdie by protesting against the ban, was Mushir-ul-Hasan, pro-vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, the Muslim university of Delhi. He told an interviewer: “I think the ban should be lifted. I think every person has a right to be heard and to be read.” He took care to deny any sympathy for the book’s contents. Overnight, he became the object of a vicious campaign by most students and some professors at Jamia Millia. Though he buckled, apologizing and saying he never meant to demand the lifting of the ban, he had to stay away from his own university. The day he showed up again, he was beaten up badly. Once again the intellectuals tolerated intolerance.
Is the assault on Taslima Nasreen and Mashir-ul Hasan a tribute to tolerance? Is the mindless violence that compelled Rajiv Gandhi to ban The Satanic Verses a glorious example of tolerance? Are the Sikh killings a consequence of a spirit of tolerance? Are the riots that forced Rajiv Gandhi to amend the Constitution to deny Muslim women the benefit of Shah Bano judgment a manifestation of tolerance? Do you call the amputation of Joseph’s right hand an act of tolerance? A form of degenerate and perverted secularism is behind this uproar about intolerance. A Hindi saying comes to my mind: Ulta chor kotwal ko danta.
These intellectuals have wronged the Muslim community, preventing their assimilation in the mainstream. These intellectuals thrive on discontent and hatred. The consequence of negating the Shah Bano judgment is to concede the right of a small group of Muslims to operate outside of the law of the land, oust the authority of the judiciary – all for a fistful of votes. The ban on beef is a mistake. That does not justify the growing tolerance of religious fervor.