On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 148th birth anniversary, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The Swachh Bharat Mission is about both ‘Vyavastha’ (systems) and ‘Vichar’ (thought process and mindset)”. While enough is spoken about the inadequacy of the system, regardless of the party in power or the matter in question, do we ever focus on the ‘Vichar’?
A friend of mine once supported Mother Teresa in response to an offensive tweet about the saint. She was called ‘cultureless’ and a string of swear words by men in subsequent comments thereafter. A few months ago, when another friend commented on an FB post saying that she would like to understand menstruation better before judging the rationale behind certain religious practices, some women took it upon themselves to take turns to insult her intelligence. If you’ve ever tried commenting on articles on certain popular newsportals, you’d know that your comments need to meet an unsaid criterion to get published – your comments must agree with the narrative of the article. Otherwise, they will be erased forever as per the newsportal’s moderation policy, even if it does not contain profanity or personal attacks.
Is intolerance on the rise in India?
The real problem that plagues certain segments of online journalism and social interactions is our failure to internalize the spirit behind our fundamental rights, especially the right to free speech. The right to free speech isn’t an absolute right and is subject to reasonable restrictions such as decency, morality, defamation and incitement to an offence, among others, under the Indian Constitution. This implies that the expression of one’s thoughts, in addition to being civil, must also be premised upon a spirit of inquiry so as to allow dialogue and exchange of ideas, keeping in line with the fundamental duties enshrined in our Constitution. The internalization of this ideal is of grave importance in a diverse country such as ours because the failure or death of this ideal would mean the death of democracy and the onset of chaos.
Take the story of Rally For Rivers, for example – a nationwide campaign that strives to unite the people of the country to restore the health of India’s rivers by increasing the tree cover and organic activity along river banks. Launched by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation, the campaign’s supporters seem to have left no stone unturned in making the campaign evolve into a people’s movement that enjoys support from multiple quarters and stakeholders. That the campaign has the support of corporate giants such as Airtel, Mahindra, Indigo or Dr.Reddy’s, while commendable, isn’t so much of a feat as is its success in garnering the support of 16 state governments, cutting across political and religious lines.
While the Government of Maharashtra has signed an MoU with the Isha Foundation to plant 50 crore trees over a span of three years, starting from 2017, the Government of Karnataka has signed an MoU to plant 25 crore saplings across one-kilometre radius of rivers. Dr.Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of the All India Imam Organization has pledged his organization’s support for Rally For Rivers. So has the Archdiocese of Madras and Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth. And of course, over 12 crore missed calls from civilians have gone to 80009 80009 in a show of support for our river systems.
When was the last time since Independence that the nation displayed such solidarity for any cause, let alone an environmental one?
Yet, there are netizens and online media entities such as The Wire or The Quint that choose to not acknowledge the significance of this phenomenon and instead focus on misleading trivia. They prefer introducing the man who launched the campaign along the same lines as a criminal ‘Baba’ who was pronounced guilty by the court recently, rather than get one simple fact right about the campaign – that Rally For Rivers is about rejuvenating rivers and not about interlinking of rivers. Let’s not even go near why the name of a convict needs to appear in an article about the campaign and the globally revered spiritual leader cum social entrepreneur. What’s more bizarre is their absolute confidence in publishing incorrect information such as the need to plant eight lakh trees to offset 26,000 kg of carbon dioxide.
Little do these individuals and entities realise that they reinforce illusory ideas of political and religious divides that have been brushed under the carpet by the masses, when they colour their reportage with their ideologies.
They might do well to invite discussion with their narratives than invite dissent. After all, isn’t a democracy all about dialogue and consensus?
I am only reminded of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s words in one of his recent interviews about Rally For Rivers – ‘When your opinion becomes greater than law, you breed a lynch mob’.
If these words don’t horrify us enough, maybe we should all remind ourselves of Gauri Lankesh.