New Delhi: Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen on Friday said that as a nation, India has become too tolerant towards intolerance. Sen, who spoke at the annual Rajendra Mathur Memorial Lecture organized by the Editors’ Guild of India, also said that Indians have to work hard to preserve the tradition of tolerance and plurality.

“The problem is not that Indians have turned intolerant. In fact to the contrary we have been much too tolerant of intolerance. When people in minority are attacked by organized detractors they need our support. This is I am afraid not happening adequately right now and this did not happen adequately earlier," Sen said while delivering a lecture on “The centrality of the right to dissent “.

“The Indian Constitution does of course have clearly articulated demands that are needed for public order, decency and morality. And that is of course is needed… the Constitution does not have anything against anyone eating beef, storing it in the refrigerator even if there are some people who are offended by other people’s food habits. Murders have occurred on account of hurt sentiments arising from private eating," he said.

He was commenting in a possible reference to the Dadri incident. On 28 September last year, Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi was lynched by a mob for allegedly storing beef in his home in Dadri village, Uttar Pradesh, stoking communal tension in the region.

Sen, 82, went on to say that most Indians, including Hindus such as himself, accept the food habits of those belonging to other groups or among Hindus themselves, saying they are “familiar and tolerant" of other people’s religious beliefs.

“This intolerance did not start with the present government though it has added substantially to restrictions already there. M.F. Hussain, one of the leading thinkers of India, was hounded out of this country by relentless persecution led by a small organized group and this did not get the kind of support… event if the Indian government was not involved it could have easily protected Hussain. Indian government’s complicity, however, was much more direct when India became the first country in the world to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses," Sen said.

Sen said there are three solutions to dealing with the situation of intolerance. First is to stop blaming the Indian Constitution for what it does not say, second is to not allow some of the colonial rules under the Indian Penal Code go unchallenged, and third that the country should not be tolerant about intolerance which undermines democracy.

Sen said that as Indians, people have enough reasons to be proud of their traditional tolerance and plurality, but they have to work hard to preserve it.

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