Intolerance is an individual choice

When does a movement become less about the people taking a stand and more about the issue at hand? When writers across the board began to return awards they received from the Indian government, they were each taking a stand against a malaise they saw in the society of which they were an integral part. But these writers and their actions were dismissed as acts of single individuals. Instead of looking at the issue, we chose to look at each person taking the stand and tried to ascribe meaning to the individual’s action.

If Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan can be judged as individuals then the people making the judgements should be ready to be judged as individuals too. I refuse to paint all Hindus as intolerant just because one Hindu is intolerant and insecure. Furthermore, I refuse to paint all Indians as intolerant just because one Indian is intolerant and insecure.

A common refrain is, “we [Indians] made them stars”. By that same token, “they [Aamir and SRK] gave us moments of sheer joy and passion”. Let us not forget that this is a two-way street. We did not make Aamir or SRK stars because they are Muslims; we made them stars because their performances and movies demanded that we make them stars. How cheap is it to take credit for the adulation we showered on them without giving them the credit for their performances that made us laugh, cry, cheer and applaud!

To say that intolerance does not exist in our society is to bury one’s head in the sand. But that does not imply that everybody is intolerant. I, for one, live in a colony surrounded by Muslims and I have never once in the last decade felt afraid or at risk. Let me do an Aamir here and bring my wife into the picture. On more than one occasion, my wife has mentioned that she feels safe because of my Muslim neighbor who is always at hand to respond to her call. At the traffic island in front of my house Muslim and Hindu neighbors congregate in the evenings to chat and share a cup of tea. My colony has a mosque and a temple almost next to each other and we have never had a problem.

But as a minority, am I worried? Yes I am. I am worried when I hear the leaders of this country scream from microphones and on television urging the “others” to leave the country. These leaders scare the living daylights out of me, because I know that an individual can transform when he is part of a mob. It is the mob of which I am scared; and it is the politicians that have the wherewithal to form the mob. I am worried when people I consider friends take militant stands against people who voice legitimate concerns. These things scare me.

Over the past few months, we have seen normal people spew venom as part of a mob at two people who voiced a concern that many minorities feel. Far from making me feel safe, it has made me reflect on the people around me. I catch myself wondering, how many of these normal, sane, literate, well-travelled, wonderful people will turn on me if I were to utter the wrong set of words.


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