Voice of reason
It is heartening to find that some eminent litterateurs and others in the cultural field have raised their voice against intolerance which is being manifested in different forms, targeting different persons. The intolerance is caused because the comments, cartoons or poems uploaded on the social media are not to the liking of certain persons. They allege such works of art hurt their ‘religious sentiments’. They not only give vent to their displeasure but go to the extent of issuing threats of physical violence to those they dislike. There is nothing wrong in disagreement. Democracy recognizes the right to differ, dissent and disagree. But the manner of expression of dissent and disagreement has also to be democratic. Intolerance infringes on democracy.
Religious or any other ‘sentiment’ is difficult to rationalize or define. A person’s sentiment may be hurt but can that be reason enough to prevent another person from writing or painting according to his own inner urge and sharing his views with others. Obviously not because that deprives another person of his democratic right. The manifestation of this type of intolerance is a new phenomenon in West Bengal. Neither the nationalist tradition of the days of freedom struggle nor the later day Left tradition ever encouraged such intolerance or accepted the ideology behind it. Dragging a writer or a cartoonist to a court for his writing or cartoon on the plea that it has ‘hurt’ someone’s sentiment is an ominous trend.
In West Bengal the influence of the nationalist and Left traditions has been so pervasive that no one ever believed that narrow nationalism tinged with a majoritarian communal overtone will emerge as a social or political force here. That belief has been shattered. The time has come for those who believe in the values of democracy, communal amity and tolerance to join hands and assert themselves. The statement issued by the eminent personalities is the first act of such an assertion. But this is not enough. It has to be followed up and strengthened by more vigorous assertions by every section of society.
Those who preach intolerance and resort to open or thinly-veiled violence against individual citizens are an organized force working at various levels and in different forums. Those opposed to their ideology and methodology have also to organize themselves and carry on a rational and sober campaign against intolerance and divisiveness. The voice of reason must prevail over the voice of unreason.