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Threshold of tolerance touches new low

Threshold of tolerance touches new low
Highlights

A wave of mayhem, murder and eerie intolerance epitomized the happenings of the week; cold-blooded killing of rationalist and social reforms activist...

The corporate media channels have been running regular programmes featuring soothsayers, tarot readers and crystal-gazers, but do they really go with those championing the cause of human rights, gender justice and evil-free society?

A wave of mayhem, murder and eerie intolerance epitomized the happenings of the week; cold-blooded killing of rationalist and social reforms activist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune, violent protesters bent on breaking up an art exhibition in Ahmedabad, and threat to peace in UP over an off-the-schedule Chaurassi Kosi Parikarma.

The common factor among them was the overall objective of vigilante groups to perpetuate and bring about disequilibrium in socio-political life. The 67-year-old Dabholkar belonged to Satara District and was a known crusader against obscurantism and superstition. The suspects are some far right organizations with whom the social activist had clashed. However, the Maharashtra Police have rounded up the suspects but are refraining from disclosing their names in view of the sensitivities involved. The far right groups of different hues are the usual suspects in such cases as they as claim to be guardians of faith.

However, the general atmosphere with elections in several States around and 2014 closing in has undeniably made the air politically surcharged. There is a virtual free-for-all in the prevailing cacophony of recriminations between them which have never before been seen or heard of. This situation has only made things becoming worse by the day reflecting on the shape of current politics.

Discussion is the essence of democracy and dissent its essential component underlying the ethos of secular ideal and social pluralism. Dabholkar incurred the wrath of self-styled guardians of faith. But superstition or black magic is not religion and obscurantism has always been frowned upon by all religious preceptors. Dabholkar really lived dangerously while pursuing his single-minded goals; coming into constant clashes with his opponents he often found himself at odds with the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. He was a critic of malpractices like black magic but also denounced belief in astrology to the utter dislike of many others besides the far right groups who saw it as part of science. Even so, there could be no justification for physical liquidation of a forward-looking thinker like Dabholkar. Opinions would differ but no civilized society would allow stifling of the voice of reason. The corporate media channels have been running regular programmes featuring soothsayers, tarot readers and crystal-gazers, but do they really go with those championing the cause of human rights, gender justice and evil-free society?

The other day, protests of another kind were witnessed in Ahmedabad, different but unmistakable. The protesters were lathi-charge by the police but their objection was that the art exhibition was a show by Pakistani artists. True, there has been a perceptible increase in acts of provocation on the part of Pakistan of late, and there is understandable angst in India against its rulers. However, the artists, as also some of their sports personalities, have been the sufferers in their own land and they come to India but only for succour and refuge. Yet neither the Shiv Sena nor the VHP would be ready to have them around.

There was yet another example a few weeks back concerning African-American scholar Amina Wadud who was prevented from delivering her lecture in Chennai. Ms Wadud is an Islamic feminist scholar of repute with an international audience, but she was trashed as a person of no consequence by critics in Chennai. What we know of her is that she is deeply devoted to Islam while having her own exegesis. She is often compared with two Nobel Laureates, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Tawakul Kerman of Yemen, in terms of scholarship and calibre. Islam was the first to prescribe a Charter of Women’s rights. Its injunctions on observance of modesty apply equally to men and women. Her faith enjoins equality and fair treatment for men and women in equitable measure.

However, the organizers of the lecture were just told to cancel the engagement. No offence meant to Ms Wadud; part of the reason of hostility stems from the fact of her belonging to the West gripped presently as it is in a bind of Islam-phobia. Of course, it won’t be apt to hold a scholar responsible for the fault of others but there is no denying that the miasma in the West has only sharpened the Muslim sensitivities and perpetuated doubts and suspicions to the cost of scholars however well-intentioned.

Across this spectrum is the Chaurassi Kosi Parikarma of the VHP covering six districts of UP around Ayodhya beginning this week. Even though the parikarma has not taken place for a quite a time, it has now been fixed off-the-schedule. Normally, the month Chaitra (April) is the time for it traditionally. But fixing of it for three weeks of August-September makes it rather perilously and oddly close to the general election resulting in its being seen as part of the overall political game-plan. The ruling Samajwadi Party in the State has announced a complete ban on it and the VHP-BJP combine supports it; while others see it as “match-fixing” on the part of the BJP and the Samajwadi Party; any confrontation on the sensitive issue concerning Ayodhya would only be at the cost of amity and peace. One can only wait and watch–with bated breath at this juncture.

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