Intolerant thinking

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The controversy over the secular themed advertisement of detergent brand Surf Excel shows the rut of absurdity and stupidity the nation is sinking into. The advertisement that shows a young girl on a cycle trying to get her Muslim friend to the nearby mosque, for prayers, without getting his clothes coloured on the occasion of Holi festival, while selling the Surf brand with the sweetness of friendship and the strong message of religious harmony, has become the punching bag of the frenzied trolls who found it humiliating, Hindu phobic, promoting love jehad and preferring namaz over Holi. Such interpretations are at best the brain-child of perverted minds who tend to read a promiscuous relationship in the friendship between two children of opposite sex from different religions. The intolerant fury against the advertisement, that has resulted in calls for banning all products from Hindustan Unilever Limited, the makers of Surf Excel, is a reflection of the intolerance to the very notion of friendship between a Hindu and Muslim and to the root idea of secularism. Few days before this furore, HUL faced the brunt of the shouting brigades over its Brooke Bond advertisement based on the social issue of elderly people abandoned by their families at Kumbh Mela, an idea that is not the figment of imagination but based on reality. The advertisement ends in hope and goodness of humanity with the tagline ‘Apno Ko Apnao’ and the message for the young ‘to never let the hands of those who made you what you are go’. The two controversies highlight the unleashed wave of intolerance which is on an unhindered rise since the Modi led BJP government assumed the reins of power. Fanatics have been a part and parcel of the society much before that but never have such elements, who are letting loose their frenzy on people and turning into an ugly moral police to promote the idea of a society that is inimical to the interests of secularism, liberalism and democracy, been patronized by those in power as is being done by the present regime. Intolerance is not the creation of Hindutva exponents but is certainly getting a legitimacy under the Hindutva regime. The idea of India as capitulated in the Indian constitution and born before that during the Indian freedom struggle is under threat by the extremist forces who are out to destroy every little symbol of secularism and religious harmony existing in the country. The ambition to destroy this idea of India lies at the heart of intolerance that is mirrored by the daily reality of mob-lynchings, cow vigilantism, troll army of social media, rows and vandalism over films, art-shows, books, speeches and what not. Such violence is further squeezing the space for free speech which is guaranteed by Indian constitution and is crucial in a vibrant liberal democracy. The madness that is freely flowing is aimed to target any dissenter but the prime victims are the religious minorities and the socially oppressed castes. The present government’s patronage to such an intolerance is epitomized not only in its silence but also the painstaking efforts made to discredit the very idea of secularism by branding anybody espousing the idea of secularism as ‘pseudo-seculars’ or ‘sickular’. There is something very sinister and methodological in the way intolerant thinking is being allowed to hold the nation hostage. It eventually impacts not just the social-fabric of the country but also its politics and economy, the model of which is based on inter-dependence of people and communities. While majoritarian intolerance is of prime concern, the reactionary intolerance it begets in the others is also something that should not escape attention. The intolerance in this country is hurting every sphere of life and it is time to stall the march of this menace and return to the basic core national idea of ‘unity in diversity’. The row over Surf Excel advertisement is a wake up call to set the house in order.