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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Intolerant India Narrative : A False Dichotomy

Courtesy : Indianexpress.com 
Now as the dust over AwardWapsi controversy seemed to be settling down, Aamir Khan appears to have opened up another can of worms with his statement on rising intolerance in India. Of course before that one of the most eminent Indian English poet and littérateurs (one of my favourites) , Jayanta Mahaptra had returned his Padma Shri award, citing his unhappiness over increasing "moral asymmetry" in society. Of course, it didn't make it to the 9 O'clock show, after all the Odia octogenarian may have accomplished a lot in the world of literature, his statement is unlikely to attract as many eyeballs as any statement made by Aamir Khan would. However, it is really irresponsible of the mainstream media to report that Aamir Khan wanted to leave India for whatsoever reason. In fact he was replying to a query by the interviewer (who himself was expanding the debate based on the finance minister Arun Jaitley's question to Aamir Khan).

When asked about AwardWapsi, Aamir was candid enough to admit that he supported the campaign which he saw as a peaceful form of protest. But while replying to the question if the level of intolerance was rising in India he agreed that over the past few months he did feel so and said his wife once even asked if they should leave India which according to him was a disastrous thing. He was merely presenting the worst case scenario or rather a situation which under no circumstances should be allowed to develop and was not expressing something he himself was thinking about or his wife may seriously be considering. But as the part about "contemplating to move out" seemed more sensationalist proposition, the media latched on to it, repeating ad nauseum until it did seem that Aamir had indeed said he wanted to leave India.



What the media did not accurately report is that prior to it Aamir also said that when there is violence or protests like AwardWapsi, the elected government should speak up and instil a sense of confidence in the citizenry. Given the fact that Aamir Khan's wife Kiran Rao was on the front protesting over appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as head of FTTI and despite months of protests the government refused to budge from its position, one can easily understand how disillusioned Kiran Rao would be. That would explain why his wife would even consider of leaving India but the fact that he called the idea disastrous is a commentary on the despondency that people around him were going through. To be honest, there exists a string of arguments to allege that the current NDA government has not been following an agenda which comforts a lot of people or makes them feel secure. In case of Aamir Khan, the media cherry picked the quote and political parties ("including Congress with its dubious record on upholding free speech when in power) ,  jumped on the bandwagon to further their own agendas.  What I find absolutely reprehensible is how the "statement" is being made out to reflect that it was an attempted indictment of India as a whole,that India had become intolerant. Of course, this is not the first time, since months ardent supporters of the government on Twitter and social media in general have been twisting even mild criticism of the government or the BJP as criticism of Indian state itself. Further, a march led by Bollywood celebrities like Anupam Kher, called "march for India", ironically protesting against the AwardWapsi protest movement was a not so subtle attempt mislead public discourse and blur the boundaries between party, government, state and society.

When Anupam Kher and his ilk appeal to nationalistic sentiment holding the view that the national image is being tarnished, they are either being deviously cunning or have developed a blind spot to the false dichotomy in their argument. The government and the State are not synonymous, while the government is transitory, the state is permanent. A government needs to be criticized and held accountable for even smaller issues not just to make it function properly but to make the state stronger. Those who are unable to distinguish between the government and the State are already living in an authoritarian or a Fascist state and need an urgent wake up call for the sake of protection of their own civil rights.

It is an extension of this fallacy (or devious cunningness)  that they called the rally March for India when in reality they were marching in support of the incumbent government. Of course, they have every right to take out such a march but adding nationalistic label to it does make it seem as those they were opposing were in any way less Indian. This is an outrageous attempt and thoroughly provocative as those on the other side have very valid ground to question their loyalty to the Indian state as opposed to their loyalty to the party currently in power. There's been a lot of debate on if it all there is a wave of intolerance in India in recent months which has seen rise in eminent and not-so-eminent personalities in India pitching in their voices. I for myself do feel there is such a wave and a lot of people I know in real do agree though some do try to rationalize it if not justifying it. However on Twitter, where now nearly all socio-political discourse takes place, most in form of acrimonious debates, this particular debate tends to get nasty. The typical response of the right-wing tweeters on this subject can be summed up as.
"if you don't agree there is tolerance in India, go to Pakistan"

The sentiment is itself self-explanatory of the current level of tolerance or intolerance towards dissenting views. However, these do not bother me much because there is also an equally large number of Tweeters on the  other side of the divide. And the overwhelming majority of politically aware Indians are not on social media yet but in nooks and corners of rural India. What really bothered me was the popular actor Anupam Kher and a few others upping the ante and misrepresenting Aamir Khan's criticism of some extremist activists as an indictment of the nation as a whole and his loyalty towards India. It is an extension of the same false dichotomy fallacy (or devious cunningness)  as when they called the rally march for India when in reality they were marching in support of the incumbent government. Aamir's befitting response to activists protesting across his house and in other cities applies to them too.

Finally, it is a completely misconstrued assumption that those protesting against rising intolerance are in any way tarnishing the image of India. The opposition and criticism is towards only a section of the population and not towards the people of India. Most Indians are and always have been tolerant but lately the far right wing groups affiliated to the Sangh Parivar of which ruling BJP is the political wing, has been asserting majoritarian agenda in an aggressive manner alarming the majority of people (not just the minority communities). Union ministers, party post holders, MPs and even a chief minister have openly made hate speeches.  If the government has been reticent in taking corrective measures it automatically gets drawn into the arena, as would any government. And for that it has also received electoral rout in the last two Assembly election in Delhi and Bihar, but it doesn't seem to have gotten the message that people of India have thoroughly rejected it for some of its members' hate-mongering campaign.

True, past governments have managed to protect themselves from the unforgivable crimes perpetrated by their party members but in the age of information it is difficult for the government to remain passive to call for aggressive action against certain classes, by its own members and supporters and yet expect no opposition to it.  It is simply foolish to assume that protests against objectionable and even right wing extremism can be construed as anything to do with lack of love for  the nation. On the contrary, it can be argued, that it is patriotism and desire to keep India's image unsullied that drives protests against the right wing.  For instance, when the international media reports of Dadri lynching, assassinations of rationalists and writers, death threats to other issued on Twitter it does sully the image of India as a progressive democracy but reports of protests by littérateurs, scientists, artists and ordinary citizens sends the message that India indeed is a vibrant democratic society unlike states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc.  After all, those raising their voices in protests are as Indian as they can get and in most cases they aren't even voicing concerns of their own community members but of the greater threat to the social fabric of Indian culture and the civilization's ethos.



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