Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Intolerance debate

Intolerance (n.) – unwillingness to accept views, beliefs or behavior that differ from one’s own

Over the past few weeks, a debate about rising “intolerance” has been raging in India. Several writers have returned awards citing “rising intolerance in India”. Talking to India Today TV, film actor Shah Rukh Khan has reportedly said, “There is intolerance, there is extreme intolerance… there is, I think…, there is growing intolerance”. More recently, actor Aamir Khan said that alarmed by recent events, his wife Kiran Rao has suggested that they should leave India

I find this whole issue utterly ridiculous.

Intolerance is a subjective term; it means different things to different people. Also, opinions always differ from person to person, and there is nothing wrong in different people having divergent opinions. Beyond a point therefore, the current debate on whether there is growing intolerance in the country or not is futile, it is never ending. Nobody claims that each and every one of 121 crore Indians are tolerant. Nor are all of them intolerant.

The slant in the current debate is that intolerance has increased after the new government came to power in May 2014. For example, Aamir Khan has reportedly said that “…the sense of insecurity and fear has been growing in the past six or eight months”. Coming from Aamir Khan, the statement is all the more surprising, since his film “PK” was considered to be hurtful to the religious sentiment of Hindus and was demanded to be banned by certain right wing organizations. However, the film was not only allowed to be released, but became one of the highest grossing Indian films of all times. 

The so-called “intolerance”, was nowhere on display, neither on the part of the government, nor on the part of majority of the viewers.

No intolerance on display - PK was a big hit

How we decide

On any such issue, a rational person should base his opinions & judgments on two primary sources:
  1. Official data
  2. Personal experience.
Sources such as newspapers, television are secondary sources and should never be made the primary basis of our opinion and judgment. They can best be used for confirmatory signals when they support what data and personal experience indicates. Secondary sources should be taken with a pinch of salt when they contradict data and personal experience. Further, even while using these secondary sources, care should be taken to differentiate facts from opinions.

Let us say, the TV anchor reports something like this:

A person was killed because he was selling beef. There is growing intolerance in the country.”

In this,
  1. A person was killed is a fact.
  2. Because he was selling beef is the suspected motive. It may be proved or disproved after a full investigation is over.
  3. There is growing intolerance in the country is a generalization which will need supporting data with a much larger sample size.
When we listen to such news, and form our opinions and judgments based on them, we must be conscious of what we are relying on. When I listen to the above news, I would give 100% weightage to point no. 1 above, 50% weightage to point no. 2 and zero weightage to point no. 3.

Where is the data?

The Home Ministry website has lot of statistics on the country’s crime. None of those who allege intolerance have provided any data to support their thesis. Note that even when data is present, it needs to be analyzed carefully, as raw numbers may prove existence of fact, but not causation. I have often seen that from the same set of numbers, different people draw different inferences. For example, economists differ on whether the economy is doing well, or poorly, though both sides refer to the same sets of data.

In the present debate, there is no data or survey which indicate how many attacks have been caused by this alleged “intolerance” and whether there is any substantial increase in them after the change of government at the Centre. Besides, let us also not forget that under the constitution, law and order is a state subject. We cannot blame Modi for riots in Gujarat while using a different yardstick for law and order problems in Assam, U.P. or West Bengal or elsewhere. The intolerance argument fails miserably against the “data” test.

Personal experience

My personal experience and observation does not corroborate the intolerance allegation. To the extent I see around myself at home, in office or in my neighborhood, behavior of the people, inter-personal and social relationships and attitudes towards others including towards people belonging to other religions are the same today as they were before May 2014. If your experience is any different, you are entitled to hold a different opinion.  But to me, the intolerance argument makes no sense. 

The only intolerance I see is an intolerance towards Modi.

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