I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.
– Swami Vivekananda, the Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, September 11, 1893.
There have been heated debates over growing ‘intolerance’ in Bharat. Many intellectuals and writers are suddenly concerned about it and are questioning the appropriateness of ‘Hinduness’ juxtaposed to secularism. What has held Bharat together for years as a civilisation is ‘tolerance’, is the argument that is put forth by proponents of ‘secularism’. Is it mere tolerance or something beyond that formulates the edifice of our ancient civilisation?
The dictionary meaning of tolerance is ‘a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards opinions, beliefs and practices that differ from one's own’. It is limited to the act of enduring with something that is not inherently one’s own. This may be out of compulsion or volition. In the Western world, where the Semitic religions were born, accepting other ways of worships or belief systems may be just a matter of tolerance. In case of Bharat, it goes much beyond that.
Swami Vivekananda gave the answer to this in his famous Chicago speech where he said we believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. Even when the concepts of tolerance and secularism did not exist, Bharat was home to all persecuted faiths like Zoroastrians and Jews. It was the greatness of Hindu culture that land was provided to Islamic and Christian missionaries and merchants on the Southern coast of Bharat. Obviously, Hinduness cannot be the basis for intolerance. Then what is the reason for regular occurrences of religious strife since Independence.
Two incidences perhaps will explain the reason. Two unfortunate killings took place in the name of ‘cow slaughter’, one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Karnataka; one for alleged ‘beef eating’, the other for protecting cows from slaughtering. Both are equally criminal. Still, the responses of our ‘secular’ politicians and intellectuals were completely different to these incidences. Another round of secular inflammation is taking place in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee—led state government has extended the restriction on immersion of Durga idols on 23 and 24 October throughout the State on account of Muharram. Is it because of objection from any religious community? No, but on the basis of secular instincts. If the Bharateeya tradition of ‘acceptance’ is respected, then why can’t there be simultaneous procession of Muharram and Durga Immersion? Then, perhaps communal politics in the name of secularism would not prevail.
In this scenario, RSS Sarsanghachalak, Shri Mohan Bhagwat, provided a significant perspective for answering a question on ‘the chord that keeps our diverse society together’, which is nothing but the reiteration of the ‘principle of acceptance’ put forth by Swami Vivekananda. Providing a trinity for unity he said, our eternal culture of acceptance and respect for all forms of diversity, our ancestry who fought for the protection of this culture and our motherland, are the three sources of assimilation of this nation. This fundamental philosophy of Hinduness allows us to realise the underlying inherent unity in diversity, irrespective of caste, creed, region, language and way of worship.
Unfortunately, proponents of ‘tolerance’ are attacking this very spirit of Hinduness with the ideology of political intolerance. Perhaps, they have to transcend from ‘secularism’ to Dharma level to realise the importance of ‘acceptance’.