With the ‘Intolerance debate’ raging across our country, isn’t it worth evaluating how pressing a problem is it relatively? It is important to answer this question because with all the time and space it has consumed in the media, in the parliament, in our daily discussions – it better be a critical enough problem to have warranted so much of our attention. As an elementary analogy, if one is caught in a sea on a boat with holes, common sense would dictate that all the time and effort should be spent fixing the biggest ones first. Not doing so will adversely impact one’s sustenance.
So let’s try and evaluate the relative severity of the problem of intolerance in India. To do this, the first step would be to define how the adversity caused intolerance can be measured. This is indeed the toughest step. The current debate leaves the interpretation of intolerance quite open, however given the political hues the debate is acquiring, it has religion and caste related intolerance as the biggest points of contention. As we are gauging the severity of the problem, violence and consequent loss of lives is probably the most concern worthy and grave indicator of the same.
If we look at available data on the number of lives lost due to communal intolerance related incidents, it averages at around 103 over the past 4 years. It is estimated that around 3,000 children lose their lives every day in India due to hunger related malnutrition or other diseases, which translates to one million a year. More than 100,000 people lose their live on account of pollution caused by use of coal for combustion, be it coal powered plants or use of coal in home stoves. Over 7,000 lives are lost each year in India due to weather related extremities. This year’s heat wave in May alone killed 2,330 people across the country.
The ongoing Chennai floods threaten to take this year’s figure even higher. (Note: I haven’t included farmer suicides here as some people argue that they can have reasons other than individual’s economic health, as was done by the central government recently, citing that family problems, love affairs etc. are one of the biggest reasons as well.)
The above comparison in no way connotes that a life lost under one circumstance is any less precious than one lost in a different circumstance. What it does connote though is that there is a multitude of problems facing India, the more severe of which do not seem to be getting adequate time and attention. Lack of even the most basic of infrastructure at all levels, insufficient healthcare facilities, widespread poverty, ever increasing economic disparity, inadequately resourced law and order setup – all these issues seem dwarfed into non-existence. Intolerance as an issue doesn’t merit such disproportionate amount of focus when there are several other more critical problems which seem to be getting ignored. One doesn’t even need the morbidity data to reach this inference, thinking logically on a macro level and in an unbiased fashion, will lead to a similar conclusion.
‘Intolerance’ is more often than a symptom than a problem. Underneath it lie emotions such as insecurity, unfamiliarity, hatred, suppressed anger needing redirection. It has been present for ages and will continue to do so. While it needs to be actively discouraged, constantly debating it won’t help. The unrelenting focus being put on it right now is doing more harm than good. It is taking away attention from more pressing problems and is also painting India in a bad light in front of the world which given the current needs of India’s economy is ill-afforded at this moment. Over time as people become better educated, economically well off and feel more secure – the levels of intolerance will automatically drop. And this will require a lot of work.
Can we please stop this debate now and get to work?
By Ashish Khurana
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