In his famous work The World According to Garp, the author Robin Williams remarks “I am intolerant of the intolerant”. I opine I am also one of the members of the same clan who advocate free speech and stand for the idea that we have every right to express our pent-up thoughts. In this way, I am fully intolerant to those who can not tolerate. Unfortunately modern Indian has witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in the breed of the intolerants. This class of people is up in the arms against any kind of dissent that is the hallmark of a healthy and harmonious democracy. What makes me pen down this piece is the latest controversy about the Citizenship Bill which has been passed despite the resentment put forth by most of the concerned Indians. The symbolism behind passing the bill is very deep with worrisome overtones. It is not only about a particular bill that has passed in a dictatorial fashion, in fact, such sort of developments put a very serious question mark on the very ethos of our democracy of which we are unjustly proud. The question that emerges is whether we are heading towards a banana republic.
Debate and dissent are the cornerstones a robust democracy. A democratic regime which is formidably structured and fully seeped into the ethos of its true canons will always fain afford a large and free space, a big enough elbow room to the discordant voices that are in no manner muffled and muted, rather they are duly considered to be the equally contributory factors to the very idea of democracy. But after the advent of saffron party at the helm of affairs, it seems that the right to protest (a peaceful protest, as per the constitution) has been withdrawn from the citizens. In the aftermath of the implementation of the new Citizenship Bill, the manner in which the students of Jamia Millia Islamia have been detained with brutal force reveals the despotism of the Modi government. Here the immediate question which arises is if this is the ‘era of intolerance to dissent and legitimate protest’.
Today, the journalistic freedom of a columnist is in great jeopardy. Journos cannot air their voices fearlessly. We have many instances in history where the most intrepid journalists have paid a heavy price by loosing their lives and limbs. The most gruesome case of the
murder of a prominent journalist Gauri Lankesh is a sad happening to ponder over. The journalist was mercilessly shot dead by some unidentified assassins. The exact reason behind her murder is still shrouded in mystery, but her sonorous voice has indeed been stifled by those who could not digest her opinions. In everyday happenings, we are shattered to read about the killings of writers and free thinkers. If we commit to an idea which is touted as anti-establishment, we are trampled upon in the most brutal way.
There is no gainsaying the fact that media is the bedrock of a robust nation. It checks the powerful and the mightiest to turn despots but today Indian media is unable to breathe freely. The sword of Damocles keeps hanging over its head. Investigative journalism holds the strings in its hands, albeit fearfully, as at the end of the day a journalist, too, is a human being of flesh and blood. Like you and me, he too has a family and kids. His mental peace is reduced to smithereens with constant threats when he unravels some shoddy side of politics. The menacing ambience of death threats has played a havoc with the voices in media. Now they are bound to write and speak with caution because they are put to a kind of torture, which the readers and viewers can hardly imagine.
When the voices of the media are muzzled, they simply give birth to chaos and anarchy which is in fact fully detrimental to the very health of a democracy. Is it not a tectonic shift from democracy to mobocracy? When we have our deliberation on the right to free speech and expression there are certainly some caveats attached to it. While expressing one’s views, one is not licensed to outrage the religious sentiments of a community, neither does one reserve the right of offending the modesty of an individual. But what perturbs us is the fact that Indians have got a very fragile set of sentiments. They have lost their tolerance to which a true intellectual is utterly intolerant. The respect for the views of others is dwindling and in the very name of religious sentiments, a pandemonium is created. Vandalism and violence are the resultant means to which the so- called offended parties take recourse. On the very slightest provocation, arsonists flagrantly go on rampages and gutting spree. The commoners, to no fault of their own, are put to a lot of inconvenience when trains and buses are consigned to flames.
In a country like India, which has these days become a god market and where the criminal babas are available dime a dozen with an array of their own armed army, if a spunky journalist musters up the courage to unmask the wrong-doings of a fake religious guru, he is handed over to the mob for a speedy trail. I am actually despondent to behold the credulity of the masses who are used as mere puppets for the self-aggrandisement of phoney religious prophets. I think it will not be hyperbolic to state the wits of the blind-sighted followers of saffron dogmatism have gone woolgathering and their intolerance is fully misplaced. If we dream of a great democratic nation, we must bridle our brittle sentiments, otherwise India will become an epitome of anarchy soon.
The writer is HOD, English Language and Linguistics, Dev Samaj PG College For Women, Ferozepur