Friday, November 27, 2015

T for Tuesday. T for Tolerance

I’ve read every argument for and against the comment Aamir Khan made. My consternation is that those who support his right to free speech haven’t asked the relevant questions. Did he personally face any intolerance? Were his rights (free speech, free movement etc.) violated before he made this irresponsible and highly generalised remark that got the Twitterati gunning for his backside?

Answer all likely is ‘No’.

Now read a story on tolerance …

My father was a young man of 20 when he moved to Kerala in 1967 – straight from a tiny village in Haryana. He worked hard, set up a miniature business and built his dream house in Kochi in 1990.

When we first moved into the house, the tiny chapel across the street from us was one of those typical ‘tiny’ chapels, where devotees would come, light candles, pray and leave.

No one can remember when it became popular.

I’d left to pursue higher education by ’91 and my parents cannot remember when the chapel began having their Tuesday Mass on a loudspeaker (these days they have a few rounds of cracker bursting after every Mass), or when they collected enough money to buy out the ‘Ice Factory’ next door to us, demolish it and construct a huge building in its place.

The crowd at the church is so huge during their Mass, especially the two that are held in the evening, that the crowd spills on to the road. Members of the congregation park their vehicles haphazardly, and increasingly in front of the gate that leads into our house.

My father, who is now in his sixties, has to go out and request people not to park their vehicles in front of the gate. For, if he is returning a little late from office, he cannot get in to his own house, or if he wishes to step out, he cant until the Mass is over.

On many occasions, he has been abused by the ‘devout’.

“You’re a Hindu so you can’t understand.”

“You are an outsider, don’t interfere.”

“I will park my scooter here. Let me see what you will do.”

He met the main priest and requested him to intervene because father is a heart patient (had a bypass surgery in 1999) and would need to access the exit to his own house to go to the hospital if something were to happen. The only thing the priest said he could do was ‘request’ devotees to maintain civility. Nothing more.

It didn’t work.

Last year, the whole family had gathered up for Diwali when on one such Tuesday evening, my brother and his wife were stuck outside due to the vehicles parked in front of the gate, blocking access completely. In fact, they were stranded in the middle of the 40 feet road because vehicles were double and triple parked.

We coaxed our father to call the cops. Meanwhile we stood outside the gate, waiting for the Mass to end and congregators to come back to their vehicles. Two young men who claimed their scooter apologised when we asked them why they’d parked in front of the gate and scuttled away.

Within minutes, several of them returned to pick their vehicles. Some smirked at our outburst, some argued with us, some abused us. That evening, we experienced what my father had experienced several times in the past.

The cops (like a Hindi film) came much later and after listening to us had only this much to say – We will send our patrol vehicle next week and please put a ‘No Parking’ sign on your gate.

Father told them in chaste Malayalam that the previous ‘No Parking’ sign had been stolen by someone. But he heeded their advice, and a few weeks later, he had a sign painted on the metal gate.

Hasn’t helped.

Intolerance is everywhere – from residential complexes that deny homes to persons of certain religions, to the clarion call Raj Thackeray gave a few years ago against North Indians living in Maharashtra. None of it perturbs us until we see intolerance up close and personal…

It instills fear…

…. when the local councillor tells my father to stop his ‘campaign’ or it would become a ‘communal’ issue….

…when my father, who has lived 48 years in a State, made it home, learned its language, adopted its culture and cuisine, is called an ‘outsider’….

…when raging ‘devotees’ threaten him all because he wants access to his own house…

Even when we fear for my parents’ safety in the light of such threats, all my father has ever said is, “No beta. People are not so bad.”

I ask Aamir Khan if he has ever had to face an iota of what my parents are facing to this day.

And yet, they’ve never discussed even in a passing conversation, “Should we leave?” On the contrary, the question my mother often asks is, “Why should we leave? This is our home.”

And that my dear Aamir is how an average Indian thinks. India is home. To my parents, Kerala is home. (Forget leaving India, for people like us, moving out of Kerala is unfathomable…so rooted are we in our identities!)

What you said is your opinion and you have every right to it. If only you had not generalised the intolerance faced by ‘Indians’. Who are these Indians, and are you one of them? Do they all want to move?

Just as you used diligence and research before every episode of Satyamev Jayate, I wish you’d made a well thought out statement, based on facts, not sentiments, and certainly not based solely on the ‘news’ we are fed by media houses.

If you had voiced your opinion and followed it up by saying something that conveyed this >> Yes, Kiran and I discussed the issue, BUT, India is our home and we have no intention of moving - you’d have given people like us more strength.

We are dismayed because you did Indians a disservice and reduced the intolerance debate to a mere generalisation. You are not anti-national, but you’re an irresponsible celebrity who had no qualms using a platform to voice your generalisation, that is neither based on a personal experience nor ground realities.

To conclude the tolerance story - last year, on this very day (26 November), my father suffered a massive heart attack. Due to timely intervention, he was virtually brought back from the dead.

Luckily for us, it was not a Tuesday.

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