Intolerance of upholders of freedom of speech

By Aishwarya P. Sharma
Many face intolerance when they express viewpoint different from that of Kanhaiya sympathisers. Time and again we have been forced to come back to this debate of intolerance. The happenings in the country in the last fortnight have forced me to contribute to this debate. For all the skeptics who have argued that this country cannot be tolerant under the current BJP-led government, the fact that Vijay Mallya has fled to London despite several lookout notices against him shows the degree of tolerance of a country towards a man who has spent millions of public money on his brand, refuses to return it or flees making all of us look stupid.
If we have any other doubts regarding the degree of tolerance in this country, then we should look into the recent actions and speeches of Kanhaiya Kumar, the poster boy of the debate on freedom of speech. Ironically, Kumar and his followers showed extreme intolerance when an English professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University questioned the veracity of the facts he quoted in his speech. It is public knowledge that the professor was not allowed to speak, but also hooted down when he “dared” to ask Kanhaiya to look inwards.
A new kind of intolerance has crept in the country today and it is being practised by those who claim to uphold the freedom of speech and expression. They are the self-appointed conscience keepers of our society. Polarisation has reached its peak and anyone who does not agree with Kanhaiya, or the fact that he is a great orator, is denounced as a “chamcha” of the government, not worthy of respect.
The ex-JNU student, who in a letter revealed that Kanhaiya had abused her and insulted her when she tried to stop him from urinating in public in June 2015 on the very campus, which is at the centre of this controversy, has been ridiculed by the media and the supporters of Kanhaiya. Her story and the timing have not been appreciated as it contradicts the image that Kanhaiya has so painstakingly built in front of us. To be fair to Anupam Kher, the renowned actor and artist, his views on the current government need to be understood in context. If he believes that our country is tolerant, it is his view, and it needs to be respected as much as the view of someone who believes that we are becoming an intolerant nation.
Instead, Kher has been branded as a ““chamcha” of the government; and some of us would even believe that his support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned him the Padma Bhushan. After all, Anupam Kher has made a significant contribution towards the film industry and has many celebrated movies to his credit. But this is not acceptable as long as he believes that this government is tolerant.
This is a new kind of intolerance that is forcing you to pick sides. Either you are a Hindu fundamentalist or a Naxal sympathiser, you are forced to choose and stick with it. The mood of the nation is such that those who do not agree that Kanhaiya Kumar made a fantastic speech after being released from prison are branded as closet “Hindu” sympathisers. There is no freedom to express any disagreement with what he has said and many students and professors at JNU feel that pressure.
The pressure has built up to such an extent that many of us experience intolerance if we dare to express a contrarian viewpoint to that expressed by Kanhaiya sympathisers who consist of students, professors, journalists or even our own peer group. It is difficult to post something on Facebook because there is a great chance that you are going to be hounded by the student army or those who are the conscience keepers on social media.
It has become necessary to define yourself clearly and publicly that it’s getting intolerant. You are not allowed to come up with your own definition and understanding of nationalism, it has to fit a certain narrative or a certain type.
This stinks of intolerance especially for a society that has had a history of being tolerant of two centuries of colonial tyranny. Even during the peak of colonial excesses, many believed that British rule was a boon for the nation and would help us become a civilised nation. Similarly, it has become fashionable to crush any kind of dissent by those who claim that they are upholding the right to dissent as far as the government is concerned. There is intolerance everywhere, only the degree is negotiable.

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