Extreme intolerance issue

Rohit Dhankar

It seems some people have interpreted my little note titled “The mindless cacophony” as an opposition (or condemnation) to people who are speaking against intolerance.

One of them (J. Saahir) has seen it as justification of intolerance and wants me to be ashamed. A second (J. Neha) imputes motive, reads the note as if I am arguing in favour of waiting till the intolerance becomes extreme; and finds my examples for ‘extreme intolerance’ “stupid”. A third (Prasoon on FB) thinks that I want people to wait till India becomes as intolerant as Pakistan and China (in this case only when you differ from the government policy). He thinks that I am stopping people from speaking against intolerance.

Of course I meant none of all this. I am not sure why these people (and there must be many more who did not comment) are reading my post in this light. May be my ways of expressing are inadequate; may be they are reading in a highly charged atmosphere where whatever said against intolerance has to be taken as such, without further arguments. May be they do not know what I have been writing and saying; and in this charged atmosphere anyone who seem to be expressing slightest disagreement is already a fallen being! Let their reasons be what they are, I would like to explain a few things more clearly and state how I think this debate should be conducted if we want it to be anything more than a cacophony.

First some basic points:

  • I have no doubt that the Sangh Parivar people want to make India totally intolerant to religions other than Hinduism, to political views other than their own, to the social life other than what they recommend. This much is clear from the statement issuing regularly from their ranks and leadership.
  • Then, I have no doubt that the government of the day is either doing nothing to stop them or is being totally ineffective so far. Perhaps, the government thinks that the majority community will come on their side because of these statements.
  • Three, I have no doubt that some of the Parivar supporters are getting emboldened by all this and behaving in an obnoxious manner; and they can be called becoming ‘extremely intolerant’.
  • Four, I have no doubt that they should be resisted and be shown their place.

And still I think that SRK is exaggerating when he says that there is “extreme intolerance” as an unqualified statement. (However, one clarification is needed here. I went by media reports in more than one newspaper as quoted in my earlier note. Then I watched the whole relevant video carefully. SRK does make that claim, but it also looks like a ‘slip of tongue’. He does not seem to really believe that India is an extremely intolerant society. But since he says is, and he is a celebrity, so words become important; there is reason enough to analyse it. Another thing which no one notices in my note is that I am calling the BJP and congress spokes persons as creating cacophony. SRK, in spite of my disagreement with him is not cacophonous. Any one reading my note carefully will see that.) And there are many other examples of such exaggeration which I have not mentioned in this post. Professor Habib sees no difference between RSS and ISIS as far as intellect goes. (Now, it is not clear if he is making a point regarding ‘intellectual capabilities’ alone or also wants to extend this claim to their respective objectives, strategies, actions and world views.) There are other people who think that telling supposed to be lies regarding reservation quota by Narendra Modi will lead to a civil war. I consider these statements as exaggerated if these people actually said what is reported.

So, why do I find this kind of claims exaggerated and potentially weakening the fight against intolerance?

My assumptions and arguments are as follows:

One, the health of democracy, secularism, freedom, plurality, etc. in a society depends on clarity of thinking of the citizens. It cannot be ensured for long term on the basis of influencing people through rhetoric. Therefore, the arguments and facts one uses against intolerance should be as sane and balanced as possible.

Two, I think words are important means of fight between ideas and ideologies; they are means of understanding the differences and working out/forming shared grounds. Words can do their job only if one respects them and does not misuse their power. If people who are respected in a society use words for their current purposes and immediate impact; they are destroying the power and utility of words; and weakening the possibility of a balanced dialogue.

Three, I believe when the possibility of dialogue is destroyed in a society, only means of resolving difference that remains is subduing or destroying the other. This is a dangerous path. The votaries of openness themselves turn into closed minded bigots in that situation. They lose their own ‘goodness’. Please note, I am not saying ‘use of words alone brings about this situation’. What I am saying is that when the possibility of dialogue is finally destroyed this is what happens.

Three, “extreme” means “of the greatest possible degree, extent or intensity; far beyond a norm in quantity, amount or degree; to an utmost degree.” I do not know any descriptive word beyond this. My knowledge of English might be limited, but at this moment I do not know any other word. But I make a distinction between ‘descriptive’, ‘evaluative’ and ‘emotive’ words. “Extreme intolerance” I read as a description of a situation; of course it can also be evaluative and emotive, in different contexts. “Horrendous”, “disgusting”, “appalling” are less of descriptive and more of expressing impact on the speaker or moral/emotive evaluation.

Four, there is a difference in saying “there is extreme intolerance” in general and saying that “Adityanath is extremely intolerant”. There is a difference between saying “killings on the issue of cow slaughter are incidents of extreme intolerance” and stating without qualification that Indian society and nation are “extremely intolerant”. There is a possibility of there being incidents of “extreme intolerance” in a society that does not qualify to be called “extremely intolerant”. I have absolutely no doubt that the incidents of cow related killings are incidents of ‘extreme intolerance’; that Togadia, some sadhvis (I don’t remember their names) and some other BJP worthies are giving statements that preach extreme intolerance. There are also the Thackeray hate industry, both Thackeray senas are little more than gangs of thugs. But I would make a difference between Indian society and these unworthy citizens of a democracy.

Five, when you declare Indian society and nation as ‘extremely intolerant’ you are putting it in the same class as China in the matters of state dictates, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the matters of religion, etc. I do not think that is the case; I do not think we should be doing that. Some people have objected to my examples; they can have their own, I have no objection to that.

Six, right or wrong, I do not see the Indian society as ‘extremely intolerant’ in spite of worthies like Raveena Tondon (she thinks that this society has always been ‘extremely intolerant’, its nothing new) and SRK declaring it so. That is because this society still has people like the three mentioned above, and others who have tried to explicate my argument. And a host of the very well-known public figures who are resisting that. And there are many such people in this society; I would like to believe that they are in a majority. I also do not think that the Indian state has become extremely intolerant; as its critics are happily writing and holding seminar. (And for the very discerning readers, by my last sentence I do not want to stop them, nor am accusing them for writing and holding seminars.) I am not saying that the present day government does not want to make Indian state ‘extremely intolerant’; I am not sure of that, all I am saying is, it is not ‘extremely intolerant’ at the moment. I do not think that Indian nation is extremely intolerant. And I do think that it will not become extremely intolerant; even if that belief of mine be more of a hope than a properly justified belief.

That is why I am citing examples of much greater intolerance of societies and/or states. It is not that I want to wait till India becomes like them; it is that let us appreciate that India still has hope, and very solid one at that; that it will not become like them. When we use untenable and exaggerated statements we lose credibility and may push the fence sitters on the other side. Therefore, it demands careful use of arguments and words. The people who are speaking against intolerance are the only hope, their credibility and veracity of their statements should be maintained in the public debate. They are opinion makers, they should educate the public rather than gunning for immediate impact. It is a long struggle; we will need all resources we can muster in it; we should not fritter them away for sound bites.


  1. This piece does not justifying intolerance, it cautions against inappropriate use of language to fight better against it.
  2. It does not asks to wait till we become ‘extremely intolerant’ it is talking of fighting it now.
  3. The examples of extreme intolerance might be stupid; But, as no stupid person ever knows his own stupidity; therefore, have nothing to say on that.
  4. I am not conscious of any motives of maligning a Muslim in my mind, as suspected by Neha. But can never claim anything definite about subconscious/ unconscious workings of my mind. As it can be detected only through a psychiatric analysis which I cannot do on myself.
  5. But, right or wrong, I do not think that imputing motives and stupidity of a person should be made subjects of a public debate.

Prasoon has mentioned that he is scared. I would like to point out that being scared is not going to help in this resistance; and painting an extreme scenario will silence those who are prone to be scared. If you want them to speak on your side create only as much fear as is justified by the situation and not more; it will detract from your own support base.


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