India, at its very core, is a hospitable, warm and welcoming society. Lately though, there has been an unprecedented surge in reported events that highlight its "intolerant" aspects.
Whilst abundant debate has occurred to establish whether India is an "intolerant" nation or not, few have endeavoured to sift the underlying tensions that rock the tectonic plates on which rests a diverse Indian society. Common Indians remain deprived of essential services and basic welfare, and hence continue to remain potent targets for divisive politics.
It is not just luck that India remains a well-functioning democracy nearly 70 years after independence, despite facing a raft of internal and external turmoil at any given time. There is a shared sense of nationalism and Indians overall take a lot of pride in this feeling. The people of India aspire for a progressive, self-reliant and prosperous nation for themselves. They are willing and perfectly equipped to co-exist, despite their diversities of cast and creed.
As you unravel the layers in Indian society, messages of communal harmony are lost in the sheer duress of survival.
However, as you move away from this utopian ethos at the core of India, and travel outwards through its layers, this "tolerance quotient" gets severely stretched by dwindling citizen welfare, societal biases, increasing population and economic prosperity that is highly skewed in favour of a small subsection of society.
The fundamental premises of inclusiveness and brotherhood do not change, but as you unravel the layers in Indian society, messages of communal harmony are lost in the sheer duress of survival. And herein lies an India that often erupts as a communal inferno.
India appears intolerant only when its overall narrative is stripped of the tropes of welfare, development, and growth, and is reduced to a script of communal, religious, racial and economic agendas. India appears intolerant when the insecurities of its most under-privileged citizens are shamelessly exploited for political positioning.
India appears intolerant when religions are pitted against one another through a selfish design by its political class to garner votes. India appears intolerant when those in power refrain from reprimanding the divisive elements.
India's strong moral fabric often haemorrhages in the hands of opportunistic power mongers. The naiveties of its masses (predominantly the rural and the uneducated) are preyed upon by the power-hungry, robbing them of opportunities to thrive and prosper. Bereft of choices and let down by their supposed caretakers, the disenchanted masses are bound to develop an affinity for anarchy in their struggle for survival.
In modern-day India, farmers are reeling under hefty debts, meaningful and sustainable employment remains a challenge for an ever-increasing population, healthcare is an expensive (and often an unaffordable) commodity, inflation is sky-rocketing and making ends meet is the biggest concern for millions of families on a daily basis. The singular focus of the masses, then, is mere survival, at any cost.
An educated, aware and informed society that feels safe, has access to all its fundamental rights, and is well looked after will seldom be "intolerant".
Therefore, an India on edge runs on a short communal fuse. The smallest of sparks is needed to send the nation up in flames.
Religion, caste and race have been integral elements of the Indian way of living for centuries. As much as these denominations and their associated entitlements need to be revisited and reviewed, juggling such diversity is like walking a tightrope across two high-rise buildings. The balancing act has to be skilled, precise and competent. For if it falters, the consequences are bound to be fatal. And that is precisely what happens, time and again, when this balancing act is breached.
The sense of community is depreciated in Indian society by such occurrences and self-preservation matters more than higher ideals.
This much-publicized "intolerance" is a mere manifestation of the helplessness of the ordinary Indian citizens at the hands of an unapproachable and shamelessly selfish political class running the country. Religious establishments, too, remain vested in political outfits and use their clout to push communities further apart.
Dress it up however you like, call it by whatever name you wish, but India will remain volatile unless it's taken care of by those elected into positions of power and responsibility.
Change at ground level is the only solution forward. An educated, aware and informed society that feels safe, has access to all its fundamental rights, and is well looked after will seldom be "intolerant".
India has a long way to go before it becomes such a society.
The onus, singularly, lies on those who are in power. It is they who must do the right thing by all Indians. That will be the first step.
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