Intolerance? And then there were many

As the sober January dawns, a brief reflection on intolerance shows it is intellectually debilitating. Intolerance is made to measure of something with your mind. As Manipur’s demography is changing it’s time for younger generations to recognise the hazards of tribalism and the need for mutual tolerance. Intolerance is fanaticism that leaves no room for contrary ideas and opinions.
Riding the ebb and flow of Meitei history and gliding into the spirit of new year for a renewal; having just finished Christmas and happily splurged on presents for our children and grandchildren; and for each other; my thought lingers on the long held tradition of kissing a woman on the lips, under sprigs of mistletoe plant at Christmas, which has now become not only intolerant but a sexual offence.
At my first Christmas in England, it was a uniqueness to kiss any nurse under mistletoes that were hung up in the ward. Refusing a kiss was thought to bring bad luck to the woman. The custom of Father Christmas at a shopping mall, putting a child on his lap, saying ho and giving it a present has also become intolerant as paedophilic.
The Meitei custom of drinking rice beer (atingba) became intolerant after conversion to Hinduism as unhallowed (mangba). When I was a young school boy Meitei women used to say drinking alcohol is unsanctified (yu thakpa mange). Only the truck drivers with their tipple were tolerated as if it was part of their vocation. Now a party without alcohol is considered non-trendy. This is Meitei tolerance.
A newly converted Baptist Tangkhul friend in 1947, told me drinking alcohol was anti-Christian. He had not been taught that Jesus drank wine and made wine from water. The Bible can be interpreted either to support abstinence or consumption, depending on tolerance and intolerance. The Baptists cite proverbs 23:29-35. Methodist ministers also to support the temperance, at one time, had to take a pledge not to drink alcohol and encouraged their congregation to do the same. Not anymore. After the funeral of my wife’s auntie (Methodist), we all sat down and drank alcohol, including the minister.
On the other hand, Catholics celebrate Eucharist or Holy Communion when they sip wine from the same glass as the blood of Christ, and eat wafers (bread) as the body of Christ in remembrance of Jesus’ Last supper with his disciples before he was arrested.
I used to enjoy Catholic Requiem Mass or Mass of the dead in Catholic Churches, after which there was a lot of drinks, especially with my Irish priest friends.
But, intolerance in the recent intolerance debacle in India was about religious intolerance, which is nothing new. Intolerance is everywhere and had been so for hundreds of years since the rise of Abrahamic monotheism (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) with their specific doctrines of faith (cf. Author’s Quest Beyond Religion, p71).
Because of Muslim intolerance Pakistan was born. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated because of Hindu intolerance. Hindus and Muslims do not tolerate each other’s God.
Muslims are intolerant of Hindus as idol worshipping infidels (a matter of opinion). A medical class fellow of mine from Srinagar once told me that his father came down from Srinagar for the first time to see him in Agra. As he could not find any Muslim dhaba (roadside eating place) on the way, he starved himself all day and night as he would not eat food cooked by Hindus.
Hindus regard Muslims unclean “Mlechchh” (a matter of opinion). Two years ago my wife, son and I went from Lalit Great Eastern Hotel in Kolkata by its limousine to Kolkata International Airport. The driver was very polite, speaking perfect English, dressed in suit and tie. He had to be. The cost of one way trip was INR 5,200 (Taxi fare was only INR 350). En route, we passed through a dirty suburb. He commented to my wife: “Ma’am these are Muslims areas. They are very dirty people and Kolkata has become very dirty as two fifths of Kolkata’s population are Muslims from Bangladesh.
Hindus are generally tolerant. The attitude of tolerance is also built in Islamic teachings and there are verses in the Koran advocating tolerance, which average Muslims follow. Unfortunately, radical fundamentalist mullahs often quote other verses like “Fight those who do not believe; slay them where you catch them (cf. author’s book, ibid, p218: Qur’an IX.29 and II.187).
Tolerance is only burqa-deep as religion is 50% inherited. Whether one lives in an atheist or totalitarian or plural society, religious belief is fundamental to many human identities. Freedom of faith must be defended as a right, but God’s rights must not be allowed to trample on human rights.
Monotheist religious traditions have a habit of wiping out competing Gods. Hindus are not bothered but they do not take insults to their gods lightly, as shown by the recent murder of three rationalist scholars in south India, apparently because of their rudeness to Hindu idol worship.
Rationalism is the viewpoint that thought and action should be guided by reason but the majority of humanity has dogmatic religious beliefs and for their beliefs they are prepared to kill each other. Rationalist scientists and atheists on the other hand, do not kill each other. Nor do evolutionists kill creationists .
When I launched my second book ‘Quest Beyond Religion’ at India International in Delhi, one of the speakers – a Hindu scholar commented I have been living too long in a foreign country with an European wife and had thus become a rationalist.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Church of England in London, has also become a rationalist. He said on November 22 2015 that he has doubts about the existence of God. He asked the question “Where was God in Paris victim’s time of need”, referring to the massacre of Parisians by Isil jihadists on November 14 2015.
There is often violent intolerance between different religions and among the same religions – such as Jews against Muslims, Catholics against protestants and Shia against Sunni Muslims.
Though there is no such intolerance in secular India or Hindustan but in reality, it is safer to be Hindus as Meiteis are. The population of India is 1.29 billion (2015). 80% are Hindus, 14.2% Muslims and 2.3 Christians, 1.72% Sikhs, 1.1% Buddhists and Jains, other religious persuasions (ORP) 0.7%.
Data about the number of atheists in India is not collected, largely because the Indian (Hindu) concept of religion is rather different to concepts of religions held in much of the rest of the world. Hinduism is a way of life. Though I am a non believer, Hinduism is my way of life.
The present imputation of “Indian intolerance” by Bollywood star Aamir Khan (50), married with his second Hindu wife, was pie in the sky – making a mountain out of a molehill because of his heroics.
Shah Rukh Khan (50), also with a Hindu wife, made a similar finger pointing, following the political mob killing of an innocent Muslim Akhlaq at Dadri, 50 miles from New Delhi on the night of September 28 2015, because of a false rumour that he ate beef in his house.
In a different wavelength, a rationalist Hindu scholar MM Kalburji (77) in Karnataka was shot dead earlier on August 30 2015. It was for his criticism of Hindu idol worship and reference to an anecdote about one Ananthamurthy having urinated on a Hindu idol, in a book published 18 years ago. Over one hundred writers, intellectuals, and scientists have returned their national awards in October 2015, protesting against the killing, declaring that “science and reason were being eroded in this country.”
They seem to be missing the point. Why to criticise the sensitive 3000 year old Hindu idol worship? Say one disrespectful word against Prophet Muhammad and you are dead. I have always defended idol worship (cf. author’s book, ibid). It helps one to concentrate in meditation.
Though Muslims in Europe and North America confront quite a lot of intolerance, it’s now for Christians to bear the brunt of Muslim intolerance, especially in the Middle East. In the Gulf states, Christians who are employed as servants must practice their religion in secret. Any Christian convert carried the penalty of death. In Iran a missionary is hanged every now and then as an exercise in public morality.
In Egypt, ancient Coptic Christians suffered during the regime of President Mohamed Morsi. in Israel, the Jews make Christian life miserable.
In Pakistan, Christians are not judicially protected. In India there is no such intolerance against Christians or Muslims. Only recently, proselytising poor Hindus by coercion or bribery is illegal in five states. In Manipur there is no such law and everyone is free to pursue their religions without interference from the government and with tolerance from the majority Hindus.
It’s difficult to know if intolerance is indeed rising in India under the BJP administration. It has always been in India with Hindu-Muslim violence from time to time. The present BJP’S hostile reaction against top stellar Khans must be because of worry over their tarnishing the secular image of India.
Ignore Aamir and Sharukh’s high-flown rhetoric, but the freedom of religion or non-religion must be respected.
The writer is based in the UK
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