On one hand, you could say that India is a notably tolerant country. Conversely, many argue that this isn’t so. Conflicts within the country between different castes and classes leave the impression that India is not so tolerant. However, treatment of tourists and foreign immigrants reveal characteristics of a tolerant society. An article in the New York Times highlights some main points about tolerance in Indian society. Akash Kapur argues in an article (NYTimes Article) that despite India’s episodes of intolerance, India is an extremely tolerant society. Looking at the two sides of the argument I couldn’t come to a conclusion on whether or not India could be considered a tolerant society.
As more and more western immigrants inhabit the country you would expect to see cultural clashes and rising tensions. However it doesn’t seem like, this is the case in India. There have been few episodes of hostility towards foreigners. Why is this?
Tolerance is shown throughout India’s history. India is one of the most culturally diverse countries, with over 22 official languages and encompasses people following almost every major religion in the world. Political life in India is based on the concept of secularism, and a complete separation of church from state. Rather than portraying hostility towards religion, India maintains a state of indifference that may play an important part of India’s tolerant disposition. Secularism in India can be traced back to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, who rejected the idea that India should form a religious state. It seems the tradition of religious tolerance in ancient India still prevails today. But does it really?
Despite India’s tolerance toward the rest of the world, episodes of intolerance are still present in Indian society. For example, one of the most evident displays of intolerance is the discrimination against lower castes, in additions to communal riots highlighting persistent tensions between religious groups. There have been multiple clashes between Hindus and Christians and between Hindus and Muslims.
In 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots broke out killing more that 1,000 people. In the early 1990’s Hindu-Muslim violence arose as a result of the destruction of a Muslim mosque by a Hindu mob. In the aftermath of the incident, 2,000 people were killed in the riots and the bomb blasts that accompanied the incident. More recently there were protests against a Bollywood star supporting Pakistanis on Indian cricket teams. These protests were instigated by Bal Thackery led Shiv Sena party. These are just a few examples of some of the intolerances that have surfaced within India. Another interesting article I found in the New York Times (Click Here) views tolerance as a weak pillar in India.
In spite of all this, India is engaged and open with the rest of the world and as a result thriving. India has been able to work with other cultures enabling the Indian economy to gain a great deal of strength. Without a general attitude of tolerance, would the country have been able to accomplish its current economic success?
Is India a tolerant society? Can tolerance be the foundation for economic prosperity in India? Is there something we can learn from India’s openness and engagement with the rest of the world?
– Jordan Wente
Addendum from Hemanth
Please consider the complexity of the country when making any judgement. It is still a 60 year young vibrant country with people coming from so many different races and cultures. Before the Indian Union was carved out in 1947, Indian people were never part of what you call an Indian State. There were more than 900 different princely states at that time. There were bound to be clashes given such diversity. Most British Commentators thought that the country was ungovernable and unmanageable. They thought it will break up into 900 different parts again before they even blinked. But Indian state has not only survived but thrived.
We have had setbacks no doubt. Partition of India into India and Pakistan was the biggest of those, and a very challenging one at that because of religious overtones. Thousands lost lives because of the uncertainty over their status after partition. Pakistan turned into an Islamic Republic while India chose to be a secular state in spite of the fact that 80% of the population was Hindu majority. The state itself was founded on the pillars of respect and tolerance for all religions, and why not? Even Hinduism was not a single religion. It was a combination of multitude of religions which existed, clashed, and integrated . So, toleration for all religions was an in-built quantity. Second incident which tested Indian state’s secular credentials was the Khalistan movement by some radical organizations in Punjab. Third incident which really left a blot on our secular credentials was when historic Babri masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya was brought down. Hindus considered it a holy place as it was the birth place of lord Rama. When Muslim kings ruled India before the British, they destroyed the earlier shrines that existed and constructed mosques right over the sites. Some Hindu fanatics got together in 1992 and incited the crowd to destroy the mosque. That started a long and bloody communal riot. In 2002 as you have rightly pointed out, another communal riot happened which started with a group of Muslim fanatics burning a passenger compartment full of Hindus chanting “Hail lord Rama”. Aggressive proselytizing tactics by Christian groups were met with intense hatred by fanatical groups. All these and much more, is very much part of Indian History. In fact, I feel these were necessary speed-bumps in India’s progress in national reconciliation and regional power equation corrections.
However, in general, toleration is appreciated, toleration is taught, and toleration is practiced in India. We as India, wouldn’t be existing if not for tolerance. In fact, I feel India is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, considering its diversity. See its leaders for instance. Dr. Manmohan Singh (India’s PM) is a practising Sikh which is a minority religion in India. Sonia Gandhi is the head of the Congress Party which is in power. She is an Italian catholic lady wed into the Nehru-Gandhi family and she is probably more powerful than the prime minister himself. Our recent president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, was a Muslim, and he was a very popular head of the state. He was a leading missile and nuclear scientist. In India, like US, religion is not a qualification for success.
Recently the prime minister of India made the following statement at a conclave which I believe very accurately describes India’s progress in spite of the hurdles.
“While people all over are legitimately proud of India’s vibrant democracy, the Government had not been able to deliver in full measure on the enormous promise and potential of the country. I recognize the frustration well wishers feel when they lament why things don’t work faster or why well formulated plans and policies don’t get implemented as well as they should be. There is a price India is paying to carry all sections of its people along in national development, but the price is worth paying.”
An Interesting Religious Map of India