The protest against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Jamia Milia Islamia University has been mostly peaceful until one day the scene turned ugly. A gun-wielding man appears from nowhere. He starts using abusive words. He pulls out a gun and opens fire on protesters. Thankfully, the spray of bullets injures only one person, but that was enough to cause fear and panic in the minds of the people. The man, later overpowered by police, was an extreme case of intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.
Intolerance may be defined as “unwillingness to accept the views, beliefs, ideologies, or behaviour that differ from one’s own”. It may be due to our incapacity to put up with the views and beliefs of others. These beliefs could be religious, social, or political in nature. Persons with such mindset can cause disaster as intolerance produces hostility, and hostility breeds violence.
Intolerance, often, is produced by a cocktail of politics, religion, race and caste. For example, an intolerant politician of a particular religious belief makes an irresponsible statement, declaring those opposed to his ideology and religion are antinational and are to be expelled from our country. This poisons the mind of his blind followers who resort to violence and killing. Religious intolerance accounts for most cases of terrorist attacks, vandalism at places of worship and persecution of innocent believers in many parts of the world. Intolerance based on socio-economic status can be the cause of caste violence, racist attacks, honour killing, discrimination against the lower class/caste and oppression of the weaker ones.
Nazi leader and Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, is by far the most horrific example of an intolerant monster. In his intolerance he devised a plan to create his ideal ‘master race’ by eliminating Jews, Slavs, gypsies, mentally and physically challenged persons, homosexuals and political opponents by forcefully sending them to concentration camps, where they were tortured to death. According to reports, the Nazis killed about 11 million people under Hitler’s regime.
There have been other intolerant brutes in world history such as Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin of Russia, Mao Zedong of China, Idi Amin of Uganda, Pinochet of Chile, Kim Jong-II and Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, and Pol Pot of Cambodia, to name a few. On the other hand, great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc., taught that real peace begins with tolerance and respect for everyone.
“Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where people are becoming more and more closely inter-connected,” says Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary General. An intolerant person does not respect others’ views; he does not entertain dialogue. He is uneasy, insecure, nervous and agitated. He can turn out to be aggressive and vicious. For example, in February 2020, a suspected far-right extremist killed at least nine people in Germany in two shisha bars when he opened fire at the customers. According to police, it was a case of hate crime with a xenophobic motive. Even in this age of information technology and digital connectivity, such expressions of intolerance are rampant everywhere — at homes, in schools/colleges, offices, restaurants, markets, playgrounds, to name a few.
It is said that an estimated 36,000 Americans are killed by gun violence each year, that is, 100 deaths per day! Over 1.2 million Americans have been shot in the past decade alone! News of mass shooting in schools and colleges, where innocent children and youth become the victims pours in on a daily basis. In such incidents, children are forced to hide under desks and behind closed doors to escape from a gun-trotting predator. The unlucky ones get injured or die as the bullets are sprayed indiscriminately.
How to foster tolerance?
Here’s a case study. Sanjay’s family lives in a suburb of Mumbai. He has two other siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother. Sunjay studies in 8th grade in a private school run by Christian management. His father is a middle-class businessman and his mother a housewife. Family time is fun time for Sanjay and his siblings. They enjoy being together, talking about the events of the day, sharing the good and bad experiences, as well as cracking jokes and playing pranks on each other. Their parents, who are simple and open-minded, teach their kids to respect each other, help and support one another. The parents often take them to pray in temples, churches and other places of worship. Every Sunday the family visits an orphanage run by Christian missionaries and serve breakfast to over 100 inmates. Sanjay’s father saves some money for this every week from his small profit. This act of charity serves as an excellent lesson on compassion, kindness, generosity and respect for and acceptance of others, irrespective of their caste, religion and race for the children. At school, Sanjay and his siblings are exemplary kids who always win over the respect and affection of their peers and teachers. Sanjay has several friends from different religious and caste backgrounds. They mingle and study together, play together, and eat together at school. They give their helping hand in all the extracurricular activities of the school and community.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate. And if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” says Nelson Mandela. Family is our first and the best school of tolerance and acceptance of others. In family we learn how to listen to others, how to share, how to respect others and how to engage in dialogue. The human values of charity, compassion and kindness towards others, especially the less privileged ones spring up and grow in good family environment. For such people, differences based on race, caste, ideology and religion are never causes of division, but of beauty and celebration. “Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength,” says the renowned spiritual leader Dalai Lama. The spirit of inclusiveness is a virtue nurtured at our dining tables and living rooms. On the other hand, the family that feasts on hate talks, caste and communal division, negative and destructive criticism of others, selfishness and unhealthy competition breeds children who turn out to be intolerant, spiteful, selfish and suspicious of others.
According to Timothy Keller, “Tolerance is not about having no beliefs. It is about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” The world is like a large garden with several varieties of flowers. If all flowers are of the same colour, size and fragrance, it is dull and boring. The beauty of the garden is enhanced and enriched by its large variety of plants and flowers. Our world is a garden of persons of various tribes, races, shades, castes and religions and ideologies, created by God. Such variety is what makes our world rich and beautiful. When we learn to accept others who think differently, speak differently and believe differently, it becomes a heaven on earth. But when we hate, divide and destroy those different from us, that’s called hell.