By Suma Varughese May 1999 Differences create gaps, but we need to reap love, not hatred, out of diversity. And to do so, we need to relearn the long forgotten value of tolerance FOR A MORE TOLERANT YOUBeware of generalizations, particularly those of a derogatory nature. Statements such as ‘all Hindus are…’, merely bar us from discovering the truth. Put yourself in the other’s place. Once you understand the context from which the other operates, tolerance is easier. Expose yourself to varying points of view. The more pluralistic your experience, the less will you claim custody on the truth. Cultivate friends among different communities. Once you see their humanness, you will not close your minds to them. Correct myths and generalizations with statistics and facts. Forgive yourself and accept your lapses. Cultivate self-awareness. The more you are aware of your own faults and foibles, the less likely are you to judge. Take responsibility for your feelings and biases. Practice inclusion. At work, seek to generate participation among all. Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (That which exists is One; the wise call it by many names)—The Vedas Indian gay activist and journalist Ashok Row Kavi tells this tale, ‘When I came out in the open about my sexual inclinations, my brothers threw me out. At the same time, I was expected to look after my aging aunt and mother whom no one else wanted. Unfortunately, neither of them wanted to stay with me. They drew their identity and self-esteem from the heterosexual members of the family.’ Subhash Datrange, executive director of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), lost his vision at age 32 due to a retinal detachment. He says of those first traumatic days, ‘My own friends and relatives wouldn’t acknowledge me. Even your own shadow leaves you. Nobody, after all, wants to bet on a losing horse.’ During the 1992 Bombay riots, Farrokh Ahmed M.K., a security guard in a bank, went to his local masjid for namaz when the police opened fire. Farrokh was shot in the stomach. ‘Seven of us died,’ he recalls. ‘At that time I felt that no one was looking after the Muslims. Not even the police. ‘ Nine-year-old Neha (name changed on request) is distraught. ‘Nobody wants to play with me because I am dark,’ she says. Victims of differences. In a diverse world, separated by color, community, caste, class, sex, habits and inclinations, each of us is different. And often we pay the price for it. Sometimes as victims, bruised by the world’s rejection. Sometimes as predators, holding the world at ransom for our prejudices. Either way, the world loses. Now consider Gladys Staines, widow of slain Australian missionary Graham Staines. In an incident that horrified the world early this year, her husband and their two young boys were burnt to death inside a jeep in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, by fundamentalists protesting Staines’ evangelical activities. Yet, the next day, even as the country cringed in shame, Gladys announced that she forgave the murderers and accepted the deaths as God’s will. No tears, no anger, no hatred, no call for vengeance. Merely forgiveness and surrender. Staines had performed the rarest of alchemy. By experiencing, accepting and sublimating a huge negative, she produced its opposite, a positive. From hate she reaped love. In one fell swoop, she transcended all the differences of religion, race, country and injury to connect with the humanity of her loved ones’ murderers. How can we learn to ford differences? What is it that holds us within our separateness and makes us push the other away? How can we move towards a differentiated, harmonized whole? Tolerance means many things to many people. For many it has a grudging, half-hearted quality, implying a forced resignation. Says filmmaker and activist Anand Patwardhan, who has made two films—In the Name of God and Father, Sonand Holy War—decrying fundamentalism, ‘It’s a bit of a negative concept. It means living with something but not being obliged to like it. That’s not good enough. Hindus must do more than tolerate Muslims and Christians. I prefer to use love and compassion instead.’ Says Sandeep Waslekar, founder of International Center for Peace Initiatives, ‘Tolerance is less ambitious than agreement or unity, but it is valuable because it implies deliberate self-control.’ These definitions apply as long as the concept is externally imposed. What if the concept were to naturally flower from within? Psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani explains, ‘Tolerance implies openness to difference. And that depends on self-esteem. If you have good self-esteem, you will not be threatened by differences.’ Adds New Ager Fali Kumanna: ‘Tolerance is automatically generated if your ground of being is unconditional love.’ As a natural state of mind, tolerance indicates an ability to coexist with others, to respect alternative points of view, to neither dominate nor be dominated. It suggests both the ability to be yourself as well as allow others that freedom. It is both sturdy individuality and acceptance of other points of view. The point is, which definition to opt for—the external or the internal? Your instinct urges you within, for that is where lasting solutions lie. Yet writers like Daniel Goleman of Emotional Intelligence warn with eminent common sense, ‘It is more practical to suppress the expression of bias rather than try to eliminate the attitude itself; stereotypes change very slowly, if at all.’ In other words, not too many of us can claim to have the self-esteem that Mirchandani recommends, far less the unconditional love that Kumanna extols. The option is to look at the issue from both sides. Civilization needs both the watchdog and the visionary. While one keeps society relatively safe from anarchy, the other relentlessly moves it towards internal change. Suppression of intolerance may be an inevitable short-term solution, but ultimately only the attitude of acceptance can eliminate the problem. For an example of the internal route to tolerance, look no further than India. Despite 5,000 years of conquests, strife and turbulence, Indian culture, traditions, and philosophy have continued largely undisturbed. Through constant acceptance and assimilation of alien cultures and habits, the country has retained its essential identity. Asks statesman and philosopher S. Radhakrishnan, ‘By what strange social alchemy has India subdued her conquerors, transforming them to her very self and substance? It is not by the use of force, or by the development of aggressive qualities that India has succeeded in her mission. May not the fortunes of India be a manifestation of that common law of nature by which the saber-toothed tiger species has been reduced while the unresisting sheep have been largely preserved?’ Going by philosophers and saints, acceptance of differences is India’s essential quality. Then how did we lose it, if indeed we have? Let’s say, rather, that we seem to have misplaced it, perhaps because of 500 years of slavery, perhaps due to our allegiance to the western civilization. The reasons are many, yet they bring little comfort to those wrestling with an increasingly intolerant society. Social, economic and political tensions have never been higher. Religious intolerance is rising not just among Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Christians too. Says Ashok Chowgule, spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mumbai, ‘Conversion is an attack on the Hindu ethos.’ Ask Immanuel Kingsley of the Pentecostal group, House of Prayer, and he will tell you with terrifying certainty, ‘We are not intolerant but we love people and want to take them to Jesus so they will not perish in hell.’ Fundamentalist political parties such as the Shiv Sena are challenging all forms of freedom of expression. Deepa Mehta’s film Fire was forced out of theaters by vandalizing Sainiks and her Water was prevented from even being shot! To prevent a certain India-Pakistan Test match, the pitch in New Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla stadium was dug up. Author Salman Rushdie’s plan to come to India was predictably opposed by Muslims. The canker of intolerance is everywhere. Reveals Jayesh Shah, publisher of Humanscape, a Mumbai-based magazine inspired by the ideals of the Argentine philosopher Silo’s Humanist movement: ‘Children can’t get on with parents or siblings any more. Even social activists do not tolerate each other.’ These are times when a 16-year-old boy throttles his grandmother because she nags him to study or a girl gets mowed down by an enraged paramour for refusing his overtures. But not all would agree that intolerance is rising. Says activist and social reformer Asghar Ali Engineer: ‘The picture of rising intolerance is created by the media that highlights negatives. For every negative report there are a 100 unreported positives. We exist because the majority is tolerant.’ There is little doubt that the media fuels the image of an intolerant India. Yet, while intolerance of the violent kind may not yet be part of our everyday reality, all of us are prey to the emotion from time to time. After all, despite its religious tolerance, ancient India was markedly intolerant towards the lower castes and women. Says Rajiv Dua, counselor and research associate working with the homosexual support organization Humsafar, ‘I had a gay chartered accountant come to me for counseling because nobody would give him a job on account of his feminine appearance, despite being brilliant.’ Nafisa Shikari, a visually impaired associate manager at the Central Bank of India, recalls: &
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