Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan on Saturday joined the ongoing debate on individual freedom, saying the right to question and challenge must be protected.
Addressing a convocation ceremony at IIT-Delhi, Rajan said free debate, tolerance and mutual respect were key to a healthy society and economic growth.
“A quick resort to bans will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect,” Rajan said, adding that alternative viewpoints must be protected while ensuring “the right to behave differently as long as it does not hurt others seriously”.
He said excessive political correctness stifles progress as much as excessive license and disrespect, and that all ideas should be scrutinised critically regardless of the source.
“India’s tradition of debate and an open spirit of enquiry is critical for economic progress. Tolerance can take the offence out of debate and indeed instil respect. Tolerance and respect then lead to a good equilibrium where they reinforce each other,” Rajan said.
Commenting on India’s tradition of debate and tolerance, Rajan said Indian kings had always followed and embedded these views in permanent structures.
“Raja Raja Chola, in building the magnificent Brihadeeswara Shaivite temple at Thanjavur, also incorporated sculptures of Vishnu as well as the meditating Buddha thus admitting to alternative viewpoints. When Shahenshah Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar invited scholars of all manner of persuasion to debate the eternal verities at his court, he was only following older traditions of our Hindu and Buddhist kings, who encouraged and protected the spirit of enquiry,” he said.
Rajan also said educational institutes and the nation need to keep the idea factory open.
“This means encouraging challenge to all authority and tradition, even while acknowledging that the only way of dismissing any view is through empirical tests. What this rules out is anyone imposing a particular view or ideology because of their power,” said Rajan.
The RBI governor’s comments came just hours after Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy became the first business leader to speak out against growing intolerance and fear among minorities in the country.
Writers, scientists and historians have already returned their awards to protest what they call “increasing intolerance”. As many as 40 authors and more than 12 filmmakers have returned prestigious literary and national awards.