Intolerance in India: A cue from past judgment

Posted on Oct 28 2016 - 9:30am
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Intolerance in India: A cue from past judgment family, wedding pictures, age, height, weight, biography

Intolerance in India: A cue from past judgmentSafi H. Jannaty, Dammam

SHYAM BENEGAL, an accomplished Indian filmmaker, has rightly raised his concerns over the targeting of actors as a result of the tension and strained relations between India and Pakistan. Karan Johar, who directed the movie “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” which has come under fire for having a Pakistani actor in the lead role, had to give an explanation for his stand about India’s action against Pakistan and condemn the Uri attack to prove his patriotism. He had to assure the nation that in the future he would not have an actor from Pakistan in his films.

Shyam Benegal has rightly questioned why one should have to prove his or her patriotism and why there should be such a demand. Sadly, the issue just doesn’t stop there. Now, one has to express patriotism in the manner that is insisted on by certain sections the society. Eminent Indian business tycoon, Ratan Tata, has also added his voice with regard to intolerance and termed it a curse which Indians are now forced to live with.

We all are aware of the ruckus caused when Asaduddin Owaisi refused to praise the nation using certain specific words or phrases. For instance, we all love our mothers and express our love in different forms and use different terms and phrases. Does such love require using a set of certain words or actions? Similarly, citizens are free to express their love and respect for the motherland in the manner and time they deem right. The expressions are all spontaneous. Why should people be forced to say or show patriotism by doing certain acts or avoiding others?

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These issues were nonexistent a few years ago. In fact, the Supreme Court of India issued a landmark judgment on freedom of religion and freedom of speech which still holds after 30 years, and I hope it continues to reign.

In the case of Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State of Kerala, the issue revolved around the refusal of two students to sing “Jana Gana Mana” the national anthem of India, along with other children in the classroom stating that their conscience would not permit them to do so as they sincerely believed that it would amount to idolatry and unfaithfulness to God.

The school expelled the students and that decision was upheld by the Kerala High Court. However, the Supreme Court asserted that the expulsion of the children based on their “conscientiously held religious faith” violated the Constitution of India. Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy clarified that “No provision of law obliges anyone to sing the national anthem” and noted that the right of free speech and expression also includes the right to remain silent.

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What was more significant in the judgment was the assertion by the judge that “the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.”

Justice Reddy further added: “Our personal views and reactions are irrelevant. If the belief is genuinely and conscientiously held, it attracts the protection of Article 25 of the Constitution”. Not only respect for the Constitutional rights of citizens, but more importantly, tolerance of the judiciary is depicted in this judgment.

In fact, as an Indian, I feel proud of the wisdom and tolerance of the judge. I would add that the judgment by the Indian Supreme Court was far superior to what is called the watershed judgment by the US Supreme Court on freedom of speech. In 1969, in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School, the court upheld the constitutional right of students to express their dissent against the State within the school premises in a symbolic form.

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There, the students were criticizing the foreign policies of the State or the decision by the US government to invade Vietnam, whereas in the case of the school in Kerala, the students had refused to sing the national anthem.

Although, it was an issue related to the nation and not the government, the Indian Supreme Court judge had the wisdom to uphold freedom of speech and freedom of religion not only to comply with the true spirit of the Constitution, but to set a high standard and parameter insofar as the issue of liberty is concerned.

The question is: Can we expect such a judgment today? Probably, given growing intolerance, it would be a bit difficult. What is happening in India now and in fact what started happening after the right wing party came into power is the rapid change of the definition of nationalism and the insistence that nationalism be practiced, viewed, understood and voiced through the myopic, miscued and distorted lenses of the ruling party.

What is at stake today and what needs to be protected is the freedom of speech and liberty that is enshrined in the Indian Constitution as one of the nation’s core fundamental rights. Democracy without secularism is certainly a farce and secularism requires that citizens are allowed to practice their religion and faith without any fear and hindrance.

In democracy, it is quite easy to legislate laws that suit the majority; yet, such powers cannot and should not allow the majority to trample on the rights of minorities. For these very reasons, constitutions provide full safeguards and guarantees. The test lies in all of the organs of the government, especially, the judiciary upholding those guarantees.

As long as citizens are not engaged in any anti-national activity or support anti-national elements or secessionist forces, they should be considered patriotic citizens by default and no questions should be asked about their patriotism.

Naturally, there should be no mercy on people who are found to be helping or abetting the enemies of the nation or trying to hurt the nation or citizens of the nation in any manner.

Patriotism is not the monopoly of a few nor does it have to do with supporting the government. In a democracy, government and nation are two different things. Opposing the government or any of its policies is not tantamount to being anti-national or unpatriotic.

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Intolerance in India: A cue from past judgment was last modified: October 28th, 2016 by greendecker

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