Author Taslima Nasreen does not think India is intolerant.
The Bangladeshi author was speaking at the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode. Hitting out at "secularists", the writer who is living in exile in India asked why secularists were questioning Hindu fundamentalists and not Islamist fundamentalists. She added that democracy based on "pseudo-securalism" is not a true democracy at all.
Nasreen was quoted by The Hindu as saying: "I think most people are quite tolerant of each other’s faith. The laws in India do not support intolerance. But there are so many intolerant people in this country. You have to keep religion separated from government. Laws should not be based on religion. There is no need to practise 7th Century laws in the 21st century. In India, the laws are based on equality and hence the condition of women is much better."
Nasreen is the latest among a series of celebrities to jump into the intolerance debate. Over the past few months, from Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan to esteemed intellectuals, almost everyone has weighed in on the touchy topic. Firstpost brings you a list of things spoken on this issue:
Days after his visit to India as chief guest for the 2015 R-Day celebrations, US President Barack Obama delivered to India an embarrassing smack-down, saying Mahatma Gandhi would have been shocked at the acts of intolerance in the country famed for its diversity.
"Michelle and I returned from India - an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity - but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs - acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation."
Aamir Khan, in a conversation with Anant Goenka of The Indian Express. created a storm when he said:
“(Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.”
"As an individual, as a citizen, certainly I have also been alarmed, I can’t deny it, by a number of incidents,” he said, “For us, as Indians, to feel a sense of security, two-three things are important. The sense of justice gives a lot of security to the common man. The second thing, that is important, are the people who are the elected representatives, at the state level or the level of the Centre… when people take law in their own hands, we look upon these representatives to take a strong stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute such cases. It doesn’t matter who the ruling party is."
Shah Rukh Khan joined the chorus against 'growing intolerance', and said that “religious intolerance and not being secular…is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot”.
“It is stupid… It is stupid to be intolerant and this is our biggest issue, not just an issue… Religious intolerance and not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot.”
This is what Bibek Debroy, Niti Aayog's member and a prominent economist, in an interview with The Times of India said:
"If you tell me intolerance is increasing, it is purely anecdotal and is purely a subjective perception, there is no point in arguing with you because you will say it is increasing and I will say there is no evidence of it increasing. The only way I can measure something is that if I have got some quantitative indicator. If I look at any quantitative indicator, communal violence incidents, internet freedom, these are objective indicators, and I don't think it is increasing. In the intellectual circuit there has always been that intolerance. Let's not pretend otherwise."
RBI governor Raghuram Rajan appealed for tolerance of diverse opinions and challenges to established orthodoxies, warning that India’s long-term economic prospects depend on a climate of intellectual freedom. In his speech at IIT Delhi in October 2015, he said:
The first essential is to foster competition in the market place for ideas. This means encouraging challenge to all authority and tradition, even while acknowledging that the only way of dismissing any view is through empirical tests. What this rules out is anyone imposing a particular view or ideology because of their power. Instead, all ideas should be scrutinized critically, no matter whether they originate domestically or abroad, whether they have matured over thousands of years or a few minutes, whether they come from an untutored student or a world-famous professor.
Karan Johar, at the Jaipur Lit Fest
"The talk about freedom of expression is the biggest joke I believe in the world. Democracy is the second biggest joke I think. I really wonder how are we really democratic? How is there freedom of expression? As a filmmaker, I feel bound at every level be it what I put out on celluloid or what I say in print. I feel like there is always some kind of a legal notice awaiting me everywhere I go."
Noted lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar came out in support of writers and poet returning their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest of the growing religious intolerance in the country, saying this is the only way a writer can register protest.
"The murder that has hurt us all is somewhere the fault of the system or government... Returning the award was an act of protest. Writers don't have any other way to register their protest. We have never witnessed this kind of religious intolerance. At least, we were fearless in expressing ourselves."
Irrfan Khan, the latest star to join the ongoing intolerance debate, said shutting up one's mouth is not a healthy sign for a growing society.
"I find it very strange when few people say that actors should act and they should not express their opinions on issues. Everybody has the right to speak their mind and concerns. If you are told to shut up then this is not a sign of a growing and healthy society."
Sonam Kapoor, on the Aamir Khan backlash.
"Just imagine the way we are reacting to someone like Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan (their comments). They will be afraid to say or talk about things because of negative reactions. We should be supportive of people who have opinions -- good, bad or ugly. Everybody should have a right to speak."
While filmmakers, intellectuals and noted personalities were criticising the trend, international media also pitched in and did not keep mum about the issue.
In its November 2015 edition, The Economist said 'Intolerable' and said this:
"The uproar over the alleged spread of “intolerance” is remarkable. Many blame the 18-month-old government led by Narendra Modi of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Its most fervent members believe that India should be a Hindu state. But its priority was supposed to be rapid economic growth, not sectarian bickering. So it is puzzling that in a few short weeks it has alienated not just India’s non-Hindu minorities and its liberal intelligentsia, but broad swathes of domestic and foreign opinion."
The New York Times in an editorial called 'A Rebuke to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi' said:
Poisoning politics with religious hatred is bound to squander the country’s economic potential at a time when India should be playing a bigger and more constructive role in South Asia and the world. India’s history is filled with examples of religious and caste-based violence that set the country back. Those conflicts subsided during India’s rapid economic growth, but many Indians now fear a resurgence.
Both the publications, however, mentioned that mixing politics with religion is going to hurt PM Narendra Modi's vision of development.