Professor of Philosophy
President, Orissa Rationalist Society
Intolerance is a disvalue for it is detrimental to civilized living. Intolerance springs from the feeling of hatred towards others. It is grounded on the idea of discrimination and segregation. Intolerance gives rise to cruelty, aggressiveness and degrading treatment of others by individuals or social groups.
Rise of intolerance between social groups may lead to conflict, violence, terrorism, riot etc. Intolerance between nations may lead to war or destructive scenario. So intolerance at any level – may it be an individual, a group or a nation – is not a desirable ideal. More it is reflected in social life, social harmony and happiness remain more at stake.
Tolerance, on the contrary, is a basic value. It is based on the idea of how to live together in peace with one another, despite dissenting view points. Tolerance stands for many other ideals for it recognizes different life-styles, view-points and beliefs. It upholds human right, dignity and rule of law.
It admits heterogeneity and pluralism relating to belief, faith, worship, culture, civilization, value system etc. It takes diversity as a basic fact of life. All people are not equal in appearance, habit, food style, mode of belief, social practice etc. Diversity is a fact and may be the law of human race.
Diversity is there and will be there as a natural outcome. Diversity with regard to religion, ethnicity, language, cultural tradition, social norm etc. prevail in human race.
The prevalence of diversity in human society is due to the fact that human civilization arose in different parts of the world some thousands of years ago. Until comparatively recently each of the civilizations of the world flourished in substantial ignorance of the other.
People who lived in groups in different parts, developed their own language, culture, moral norms and religious belief. We also notice racial and ethnic diversity in human society. Gradually, though at a much later stage, came the idea of national sovereignty and national identity. Now we find there to be nearly 200 nations, a dozen religions, more than 4000 languages etc.
People by and large express their identity with these themes. Again within a religion or nation, there are diverse groups of multifarious identities. So heterogeneity and diversity have been there and will continue to be there in human society in some form or other.
Despite all these diversities and differences rationalists in all cultures think of moral solidarity of mankind. Rationalists and humanists believe that humanity is one. With the establishment of UNO an international mind and cosmopolitan attitude have grown in the world.
Modern science and technology have made the world a global village. All great discoveries and inventions have made human existence much happier and smooth. We have been able to cure most of the epidemics and fatal diseases which a few centuries back were of great threat to human life and existence.
Progress of modern science and technology, and the rise of the international mind after the establishment of UNO, serious concern has been expressed to eliminate all forms of intolerance based on religion, nationality, ethnicity, cultural identity etc.
Tolerance, as already hinted at, is a moral value and is associated with a set of other values as well. It is founded on the idea of harmony among all the groups. Whatever difference we may have, still we can respect each other and live together in amity.
We can try to avoid all conflict, enmity, hatred etc. if we respect each other and accept that man has right to live with dignity. Tolerance, universal declaration of human right, sense of justice, equality, freedom of thought and non-violence are interlinked and are our cherished ideals.
Tolerance does not of course mean toleration of social injustice. Any form of injustice inflicted upon others is also a reflection of intolerance. Intolerance is antagonistic to free thinking and it promotes violence and injustice.
Intolerance is a reflection of narrow mindedness and is against civilized living. It is detrimental to social progress and welfare.
In Indian society injustice has been a part of our cultural milieu. Indian Hindu Society has been vertically divided into hierarchical caste system. A large section of the people has been marginalized for generations. Particularly the dalits and sudras over a millennia have been meted out with injustice.
Social slavery is one of the subtle forms of intolerance Perpetuated against a marginalized section in India. Despite legal protection after independence, the dalits in the country have remained vulnerable to different kinds of cruel atrocities. Recently in a village in Bolangir district of Odisha a minor incident evoked a quarrel between two persons belonging to two castes, one upper and one low (dalit). All villagers of the upper caste got united and set fire to all the houses of dalits.
More than thirty dalit families lost all their belongings. This is not a stray incident. Caste discrimination and atrocities are regular phenomena in our social life. Communal riot is another blatant form of intolerance in society.
Three years back communal riot in Kondhamal district of Odisha was an organized violence against a religious minority in hundreds of villages. Caste and communal intolerance resulting in violence and bitterness against the socially and economically disadvantaged vulnerable minority is a hardcore reality of Indian society.
At the international sphere we observe that mankind is marching towards an age of globalization. Consequently mobility is increasing rapidly. This will result in massive migration and interdependence. In such a scenario tolerance is a necessity otherwise there will be violence, tension and conflict.
Parochial attitude always leads to social disharmony. Since social pattern is changing rapidly we need a culture of tolerance which is the very spirit of rationalistic and humanistic approach to life.
Atheists, rationalists and free thinkers always emphasize on scientific temper and humanistic ideal. Humanism advocates a cosmo-centric world view as different from the theo-centric world view. Humanism highlights the culture of tolerance at each level of social interaction.
For it accepts that every individual has a right to live with dignity and follow his own conviction and pattern of living. To encourage tolerance, fellow feeling and sense of respect towards others, education can play a significant role.
Through education we can impress upon the young minds the values of fellow feeling, peaceful living and human dignity. In other words education can be the effective means of preventing intolerance, hatred and communal mind-set. It can address our cultural, social, religious and political differences.
Realizing the supreme importance of tolerance UNO declared 1995 as the International Year of Tolerance. After that from 1996, November 16 is being observed throughout the world as International Day for Tolerance.
In this connection UN charter states in its preamble- “We the people of the UN determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights with dignity and worth of the human person and for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbour”.
UN has appealed to encourage tolerance, respect dialogue and co – operation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples. It has made mankind conscious of the dangers of intolerance so that there will prevail love, fellow-feeling, brotherhood and sympathetic concern for others.
Unfortunately throughout human history it is human cruelty and intolerance that has made humans to weep. Nature, we know, nurtures us and at the same time nature is the cruellest killer. But man through scientific knowledge and skill has been able to meet the challenges of nature to a great extent.
But human cruelty, intolerance and inhuman treatment of fellow beings have been the greatest predicament that has been the cause of human misery and suffering. To check all these moral evils promotion of tolerance and its allied ideals is a sine qua non for civilized living.
One of the important sources of intolerance is the communal mind-set. Religious orthodoxy and conservatism give rise to communalism. Neediness to say fundamentalism and communalism are threats to tolerance and civilizational values.
Religious fundamentalism in the past has stood on the way of scientific progress and social reforms. In contemporary scenario it not only destroys social amity and happiness, but also opposes freedom of expression and rational thinking. Communalism gives rise to animosity and intolerance. Against this attitude, secularism is the most rational and civilizational value that has emerged in the world.
To conclude, rationalists are not against all that religion stands for. Rationalists do not discard the humanistic ideals of religion. But they oppose that aspect of religion that is based on falsehood or that is against human solidarity and brotherhood. The Vedic version that “the truth is one, but sages call it by different names; or the ideal-“may all be in peace, may all be free from ailment, may all see that is noble and let none be in sorrow or suffering” will be greatly appreciated by a rationalist .
So too the Buddhist view of Non-violence, the Jaina idea of anekantavad, the Islamic view of universal brotherhood, the Christian ideal, love thy neighbour or the Upanisadic vision, the world is a family of great moral ideals. These ideals are highly admired by the rationalists and atheists.
But when religion preaches intolerance and hatred towards others, rationalists have shown exemplary courage to oppose it. For they raise their voice against any idea or ideal that divides mankind and creates animosity in human society.
Admitting our diversities and pluralistic life-styles, we can live in peace and harmony provided we cherish the ideal of tolerance and liberalism. That is what the rationalists have been advocating down the ages in all cultures.
(Presented at the 8th National Conference of FIRA)