As the year ends, I found that unlike past years I am no longer keen on working on my resolutions list. Maybe because I know I am going to break every single resolution within a few weeks. However, my mind has been mulling a topic for some time now. And I think it is vital that I write this, so that these thoughts and ideas, once set on paper, will stop nagging me. Which is what they have been doing… nagging me.
Intolerance… it was the buzz word of the moment until a couple of weeks ago.
Before we proceed further, I would like to add my disclaimer – I am not interested in adding to the noise in this regard. However, being a writer, I have to write my thoughts down just so that they begin to possess some resemblance of order in my mind – packed as it is with trivia, notions, fears, hopes and ideas, besides my meal plan for my daughter’s school tiffins.
I write from my perspective. The perspective of an expatriate in the Middle East. An NRI. An Indian.
We live in a world where news reaches us with an immediacy that is shocking. The speed also means that the emotions it stokes are rawer and fresher. We are no longer getting angry about something that happened yesterday or last week. We are getting angry about something that is happening right now. And this anger fuels the drama on further, giving the issue new wings of energy to fly on. This can be good, as was proven in the Delhi bus rape case (the juvenile being let out and the act that has been cobbled together in a hurry is a different beast all together). But this can also be bad. An issue that would have died out in a day or never have been an issue, becomes a matter of international debate thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp posts, and tweets.
I am not a historian but am a bit of a history buff. Indian history to be very specific. I am not an expert on world or Indian politics either. But I am qualified by virtue of being an unwilling witness to the madness that our world sometimes devolves into every now and then. The little bit of reading that I have done, has impressed upon me one simple fact – India and the rest of the world have always been… hold your breath… intolerant. We as a species have always been driven by fear. Add power to the mix and you have the most potent cocktail on earth.
Governments are faceless macro beings or machineries if you will, that are fuelled by fear and power. Does that sound wildly new age to you? It shouldn’t. And it is not.
Be it Ashoka or Tughlaq, be it the American or the Iranian government, Romans or the Spanish, Nazi Germany or the Mongols, Israeli or Palestenian, Congress or BJP – governments, unfortunately are driven by fear and power. It is not a fault. It is what it is. Maybe something that is an intrinsic part of our collective DNA. Maybe it is the primitive, animalistic self in us.
Governments are made up of people. People come in all colour and stripes. It’s therefore no surprise that we have been doing a good job as a species in dividing ourselves up. Man-woman, white-black-brown-yellow, aggressor-victim, rich-poor, cultured-uncultured, West-East, Christian-Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh, and nowadays, tolerant-intolerant.
As Indians, ‘Unity in Diversity’ is a slogan that we take pride in. It’s this very diversity that is being considered a problem now. Yet our very plurality means that try as we might we can’t run away from our diversity. We are different. We are separate. And that is ok.
However there is one more division. The only division that truly matters, in my opinion.
Evolved-unevolved. In our thinking.
Most of us are still unevolved. I include myself in that list. Work-in-progress.
Some of us tend to think that if we are at the receiving end of the stick then we are not in the wrong. We Indians are good at this… at playing the victim. We still blame the British Raj for so many of our problems. After all we were, and are the victims. To a certain extent, we’d be right – we are not committing an aggressive or harmful act. But even as victims not causing harm, we can be unevolved, because we propagate thinking that does not serve us in any way… individually or as a species.
How many of us can honestly say that we have not ourselves or our family members have not said something that dismisses another community or puts another religion down or laughs at someone because of their beliefs. “All whites are racists.” “Indians are poor and unclean.” “Fat people are lazy people.” ”Those with darker skins are less beautiful.” “Those who eat meat are dirty.” “Girls are a burden to their parents.” “All Muslims are prone to violence. “I could go on. We have all done it – to different degrees. Every single one of us.
Some, inspired by their experiences and the people they meet, end up thinking about their old thoughts and deeds, and evolve and grow in their thinking. But we still find ourselves slipping.
When the terrorists attacked Paris (a modern, Western city as opposed to a place that has become accustomed to bomb blasts – can you even begin to acknowledge the sheer monstrosity of that sentence?), quite a few of us devolved. Stepped back into fear. Let in only Christian refugees! Don’t let in any refugee – they are all terrorists! Donald Trump trumped us all in his call for a return to a narrower way of thinking and living. Scarier still was the fact that his hate-fuelled words found such strong support in a country that prides itself for its pluralism and open mindedness!
When Shah Rukh Khan, and later Aamir Khan made a controversial remark, India quickly lined up into two main opposing teams. One team felt they are right and India is going to the dogs. The other team felt that they should leave India and stop being so unpatriotic. In Aamir Khan’s case, a core comment which did not even emphasis the word intolerance (he kept using the word despondent) resulted in a storm of accusations and counter-accusations that stank of just one thing – intolerance.
Funny isn’t it. We can’t tolerate criticism. We can’t tolerate our country. We can’t tolerate each other. We are now officially intolerant about intolerance. The irony!
There was a sub-section in both the teams that felt that it didn’t matter whether they agreed with either of the actors or not, but that they had a right to their opinion, however they should have been wiser about sharing it and explaining it – given their influence on the public. But as usual, the voice of reason was hardly heard.
Be it the coverage of OROP or the act of returning their awards by writers and the farce that it resulted in after a while, it makes one wonder – ‘where is the voice of reason?’ All of these are just the current revenue creating sound-bytes that will be replaced by the next big thing.
In the meantime, a few more of our soldiers died, some spies were caught, a few more kids died due to starvation, another woman got raped, the rains continued unabated and almost drowned a city but not it’s spirit, young men and women grappled with unemployment across the globe, somewhere another drought-hit farmer hanged himself because he could not bear the burden of being alive anymore, another bomb exploded somewhere killing innocents, India tried to walk the tight rope between development and protecting the environment, and refugees keep dying in their quest for a life.
You know what is intolerant? The fact that these are issues we are not even interested in. We turn our head and heart away. It is somehow easier for us to get emotionally invested in issues with a ‘superstar’ attached to it or when the details are so gruesome that we can’t but be shaken by it! Is it because many of us consider (at some deep subconscious level) even news to be an extension of ‘entertainment?’
I understand the world has been asking a lot of us. Our quota of sympathy and empathy is being dug into like never before. But these are exactly the times when we need to dig in deeper and pause, and consider all the angles and aspects, and then take action.
It is easy to be swept away by the negativity. To believe that the world is going to the dogs – being taken over by intolerant bigots, racists and jihadists. But I live in a country, where my neighbours are British, Australian, Iranian, Emirati, Pakistani and Lebanese. Without fail, no matter what happens wherever, we have always been civil to each other. Kind, polite and friendly. The Iranian and Lebanese kids are good friends, bound by their age and common Middle Eastern heritage. The Emirati gentleman always has an encouraging smile for my daughter when he comes across her dressed in her ‘gi’ as she heads out for her martial arts class. The Pakistani women are lovely ladies full of questions and conversations. The British lady is a proper lady and reminds me of those friendly, grammatically correct version of the British that we often saw on Indian television screens in the 1980s. She always has a wave and smile for all her neighbours. The Australian guy is married to a Lebanese woman and loves to take his little boy swimming. I am not mentioning the Indians, the yuppie mixed-race British couple and my Nepalese security guard.
But I am not a fool. There is intolerance. But I am thinking, and this is a notion-in-development, that as long as the interactions are one-on-one, individual-to-individual, human-to-human, soul-to-soul, we are a pretty decent lot. Nice, warm, friendly and civil.
But when a group of us from one place get together, we start playing games. You versus me. Us versus them. Like in a playground. Kids ganging up against each other. Cliques. Suddenly we are not nice and friendly individuals, but groups… races, countries, minorities and majorities. Maybe it is time we set all this aside and just focused on being a community.
Forget about tolerating each other. How about just accepting each other for exactly who we are?
Happy New Year!