Punjabi by nature: To be or not to be tolerant

  • Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Nov 15, 2015 22:51 IST
Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu

That the narrative of India has got stuck in two words, tolerant and intolerant, is not false. Not only does it appear to have got jammed, but these words seem to have become the de facto yardstick to judge every Indian’s patriotism.

Rather, the narrative has gone so awry that God forbid you have ‘Tolerant’ written on your forehead, turncoat is a word not far from the lips of the jingoistic who has monopolised the right to decide who is patriotic and who is not. Now print the same forehead with the word ‘Intolerant’ and see what happens. ‘Shaabash!’ as Gabbar would have said. Oops, Anupam Kher.

One way to get out of this slush is by revisiting the meanings of the two words, which might help us to introspect the harsh reality. Tolerant, according to the dictionary meaning is ‘showing a willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with’. Intolerant means ‘not tolerant of views, beliefs, or behaviour that differs from one’s own’.

The meanings explicitly set the record straight, thus opening the debate, to tolerate or not to tolerate? Intolerance is akin to the saying, ‘My way or the highway’, and it will only be a matter of time when we catch up with our neighbour at the next McDonald’s. And beef, chicken, shrimp and pork can be settled there khul key, because then who cares. Cut – Vud.

So, is this the path we want to take? Not that we haven’t taken this route before. Yet, tolerance is India’s only strength, which if not held on to, will run to join the likes of corruption, nepotism, dishonesty, etc, etc.

Since almost every listed malice in the dictionary has infected the idea of India, shouldn’t we be searching for words like progress, meaning ‘to develop towards an improved or more advanced condition or forward or onward movement towards a destination’? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t ‘progress’ the word our Prime Minister keeps harping about? He has clocked miles and miles of airspace, given scores of speeches in every possible stadium in search of it, and yet it seems to elude him.

Perhaps the clue to the treasure hunt lies at home because while driving on the intolerance highway one will never encounter a milestone which reads, Progress. Progress cannot be found where there is unrest. It is not in its nature to thrive in an atmosphere of hostility, where people are ready to kill each other on the basis of different eating and drinking habits. How more bizarre can this get?

Ticking off writers, authors and actors for returning awards is a waste of time and effort. They have only tried to flag an issue, which one should evaluate. Nothing more, nothing less. If there is a problem, rectify it. However, not like the tolerance march, please. That’s like shoving the malice under the carpet. Because other than the writers, the Bihar election has also highlighted that a course correction would be a good idea. The very fact that Bihar has preferred a corruption tainted political class over the intolerant is a message in itself. Intolerance has side effects; tolerance advantages.

Let’s go for the latter.

Email the writer at singhkhushwant@hotmail.com

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