I had written long ago about the new-age disease that is plaguing India. It is one of intolerance — it is one that rejects pluralism, freedom of speech, strong-arming anything and everything that doesn’t conform to one’s own thoughts, beliefs, values, opinions, systems, religion, god, politics. It is one thing to reject something that you don’t identify with; it’s a whole different thing to try to shut the person up that said it.

The latest is of Wendy Doniger’s Alternative History of Hindus and Hinduism. In reality, I would never have read a book on this subject, and even if I had to, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have picked up Doniger. There are enough negative reviews about her works, written presumably by non-bigots.

Also, I would be naïve to call intolerance entirely a new-age disease. India has suffered several issues along same lines throughout history. Nehru’s secularism and a freshly written constitution was a new lease of hope for an India that would truly value secularism, freedom of speech, democracy and most importantly, peaceful coexistence.

Doniger’s (or actually Penguin’s) conundrum, along with those of Salman Rushdie, MF Hussain and events such as the Gujarat Riots, Babri Masjid, Kushbu (actress) all can be boiled down to a singular issue — intolerance. Sadly, people that suffer intolerance have great levels of success bending the system of justice (and by extension, the constitution itself), making their actions legal in justice’s eyes and righteous in popular eyes. Superficially, this is an issue of freedom of speech — but deep down it zeroes in to human decency. That is what we seem to be lacking.

Elsewhere in the open world, Doniger’s book would have quietly been added to the shelves. The commercial and intellectual success of the book would have been determined by only one thing — the author’s POV and how she articulated it. The popular culture may still dismiss the book of being anything of value — but there’s zero possibility that a court would have asked to recall, much less burn those books.

In any case, I am guessing most Indians have not heard of this issue or even if they did, they are not spending even a minute thinking about it. It is this indifference which is killing India, but also which has come to define Indians.

Further reading: