What really does Hindu ‘acceptance’ accept?4 min read . Updated: 10 Oct 2015, 12:21 PM IST
In the Hindutva point of view, anything that does not toe their line is intolerable says Aakar Patel
A few months after the Gujarat riots of 2002, I interviewed Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister. We were conversing in Gujarati and I used an English word, “tolerance", to ask a question. Did he think that given the happenings and the recent history and the total lack of remorse from Gujaratis, their tolerance level was lower than in the past?
He did not answer this question (when I asked him again later, he said something along the lines of, “These important things must be understood in depth and keeping in mind the history of past centuries. They cannot be compressed as you are superficially doing"). Instead he corrected my language to say that what Hindus had was not “tolerance" but “acceptance" (he also used the English word). I am writing from memory and he will forgive me if I don’t represent his words verbatim.
Tolerance was foreign to us, he said, and it indicated living with something a culture was uncomfortable with. The thing or person thus tolerated existed on sufferance.
In the Hindu view of the world, on the other hand, all streams of thought (i.e. other religions) were equally valid. And so Hindus “accepted" rather than merely “tolerated". Sometime later, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then prime minister, said something similar. That day in Modi’s office, I did not linger on this and we moved on to discussing other things. I now wish I had not, and had pressed him to explain this further, but it seemed unimportant at the time to linger on semantics.
I have been thinking about this distinction in the last few days. Clearly there is a difference in the way that those who bow to Hindutva view certain events that anguish the rest of us. Perhaps it could be that this difference is emphasized because one side is cold and cruel, particularly to the sentiment of the “enemy". However, it could also be out of a belief that violent events are either aberrations or justified. How does this square with Hindu “acceptance"? That is what I have been thinking about.
What is tolerance? The dictionary says it is “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with". This is clear enough. Acceptance is “the act of accepting something or someone". I suppose that is slightly vague till we arrive at what “accept" means. It means “to receive willingly" and “to give admittance to".
Clearly there is a difference here in sentiment, as Modi had indicated to me. Tolerance assumes that the presence of the other and of his behaviour is not always either likeable or agreeable. One tolerates him despite this dislike. Tolerance emphasizes restraint. It acknowledges that the world is not perfect and the angularities of its occupants have to be adjusted to.
Acceptance seems at first to be a higher and more noble outlook. But what if this willing reception and admittance are conditional? That I will love you and treat you as my own, because we are all essentially the same. What if this acceptance qualifies and separates that which it sees as foreign, which it is unwilling to accommodate?
Then it becomes more difficult to see it as being better than tolerance. Hindutva’s insistences (“all Indians are Hindus") and its desire to absorb things on its terms and in accord with its definitions must be understood in this light. This is what I have also been thinking about.
But what happens when some Indians don’t want to be such Hindus? That is intolerable, as we have seen, disappointing even many recent Modi enthusiasts (who innocently separated “development good cop" from “Hindutva bad cop" when they plumped for him).
Of course, none of this is actually new. Read the appalling stories that continue to come out of Gujarat and that becomes immediately obvious. Anyway, that is a digression.
No culture on earth has unconditional acceptance of the other, nor can such a culture exist. It is a myth that Hindus have or ever had it. It exists as an idea because the Hindu is impervious to many things, including the filth and chaos around him. A minaret and a cap are not that difficult to absorb visually for such a person. Hindu culture, like all other cultures, has never “accepted" in that sense. Or it has accepted on the basis of its internal gradation.
Such acceptance collapses when the Hindu is dominant, as he is today, and there is resistance to his definitions. It is when there is such a disagreement and a dislike that tolerance kicks in. It expresses its disapproval and perhaps even hatred but respects the right of the offending individual to exist and to hold his view. Hindu acceptance as imagined by Hindutva lacks this. It is quick to violence, as the last three decades show, though it insists it is pacific and is being provoked. We should expect more of the same.
Aakar Patel is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal.
Also read | Aakar Patel’s previous Lounge columns.