Opinion Columnists 10 Sep 2016 Dangerous intoleranc ...
Sidharth Bhatia is the Founder/Editor of The Wire and writes on politics, society and popular culture. In addition, he is a great fan of rock music.

Dangerous intolerance in India

Published Sep 10, 2016, 12:32 am IST
Updated Sep 10, 2016, 7:26 am IST
It’s no coincidence that most victims are Muslims or dalits.
Representational image
 Representational image

The report of Haryana cops going around picking up biryani samples from street vendors to check if they contained beef sounds like a gag by comedians. We know that the Haryana government and its CM are obsessed with beef, but surely, even they wouldn’t go this far. Officialdom is often ridiculous, yet the police should have better things to do than collect biryani samples. But no, in the nation we now live in, the ridiculous is often the mainstream. In Gujarat a petitioner filed a PIL arguing that mobile game Pokemon Go offended religious sensibilities. The game involves collecting eggs which turn up in the oddest of places — the petitioner claimed showing the eggs, which were considered “non-vegetarian”, struck at the root of the Hindu religion. If that was not bad enough, the game was also being used as a surveillance tool!

The courts actually saw his point and issued notices to the state and Central governments and to the game’s makers. Again, one would have thought the courts had better things to do and would have asked the petitioner to write to the government, but why waste time writing letters when you can file a case and attract media attention? Who knows, the company may take it seriously and call you to discuss a compromise? News items like these provide fodder to social media wits and to clever graphic artists who make fun of them. But however absurd this sounds, this is no laughing matter. — it can have deadly consequences. On the surface, the Haryana government is merely checking if the beef ban is being flouted, but the drive would have sent a chill down the collective spines of minorities in the state. They may or may not be consuming beef, and given the hefty penalties and stringent punishment, why would they risk it, but they know they are vulnerable to daily harassment, blackmail and worse.

 

Even if the police spares them, the vigilante groups that are springing up will go after them. The facts won’t matter in any case — once the finger is pointed, it sets off an entire chain of events that can prove fatal, as we saw in the case of Mohammed Akhlaq. As far as the PIL against Pokemon Go is concerned, while it may just be a publicity stunt, it is one of a piece of going after filmmakers, writers and artists for touching on “sensitive subjects”. Anyone, anywhere can get up and declare his religious sentiments have been affected and the law and the courts could well agree, or at least take note. Perumal Murugan decided to stop writing when there was a hue and cry over his book for its theme; in future, writers may censor themselves and not touch any subject that could remotely upset anyone.

Hindi filmmakers are notoriously susceptible to such criticism and past record shows they take the easy way out and capitulate — better to make a Grand Masti and its interminable sequels than a film that examines social or religious mores. The self-proclaimed upholders of our morals and values, who want to control what we think, do and eat, get encouraged every time a government uses its resources to pursue alleged beef-eaters or the courts admit a petition against mobile games or indeed against a filmstar such as Ramya accusing her of sedition, no less, for saying nice things about a neighbouring nation. Often this intolerance takes a dangerous turn, as we saw in the case of Narendra Dabholkar and M.M. Kalburgi.

Such people once used to be dismissed as nutters, but today they are centrestage, enjoying their credibility and power to cause real harm to innocents. A gau raksha group wouldn’t exist if the government didn’t enact laws of the kind Haryana and Maharashtra have done. Never mind what the Prime Minister says about good gau rakshaks and evil ones — on the ground, it’s the latter who are roaming about, lathis and belts in hand, ready to pounce upon anyone who, in their eyes, is a transgressor. It’s no coincidence that most victims are Muslims or dalits; they are the ones most affected by these laws in the first place. Laughter is a good way to cope with the madness around us, but it will need more than just laughing to push back the sinister elements emerging all around us. Banking on the State for support is of no use; it’s the State that has started it all in the first place.

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