The last days has witnessed media reports of intolerance.
First it was the sad but also rescuing fact that celebrated artist M.F. Hussein who has been threatened by reactionary Hindu activists, was granted citizenship in Qatar.
Secondly, the book “Crescent over the world – is a boon or the silent Holocaust”, published in Andhra Pradesh has caused an uproar among local Muslims, gotten the author arrested and book stacks seized by the police.
Thirdly, a gay professor was ejected from his campus home at Aligarh Muslim University and had his close retirement and employment taken from him.
What these stories suggest is not unusual in India, as the country moves from rural feudal relationships and customs, along with socially conservative traditions in the metros to a more open modern global superpower. Such stories make many modern urban Indian embarrassed while Westerners are horrified. All these reactions are known.
But what these stories also suggest is that it is members in the Indian civil society that is to blame for the intolerance while the state just watches. The state with its force and laws has resigned to protect the individuals and in the end, the civilized civil society from its most uncivilized members.
M.F. Hussein has to face innumerable court hearings about the supposed obscenity in his paintings of Hindu deities the moment he enters India, as the legal process goes on forever and little has been done to help from any Indian government since his legal troubles and threats to art galleries began.
The Muslims of Khammam, A.P. did not face any obstacles when protesting saying that the book hurt their beliefs and sentiments- instead the Superintendent of Police said: “We also feel that there is some objectionable content in the book.”
The vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University defends his firing of the gay professor by referring to the university’s morals, which are supposedly above the Delhi HC decriminalisation of adult consensual intercourse in 2009.
A state that does not defend its citizens against intolerance will let the scope of any human rights violation reign over individual acts and choices, freedom of expression and thought. In India it is the state that is to blame for these latest misdeeds. To defend civil society, as CCS does, is not to be blind to the faults of communal, criminal or coercive acts within the civil society. It is to stand clear on the issue of whose responsibility and with which power it is to stop intolerance.
In India it is the armed forces of the state that ultimately shields the civil society. Within a just and liberal society, a spirit of dialogue and critique may be fostered by free thinking individuals and groups, but that bears little protection against villains of harm, violence and vice. A sad week for an open Indian society but a reminder of the task before us.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.