Many words are jargon, slogans, cliché-s today: very few really understand their import, how they work in real life and what their implications are. It would be another run-of-the-mill effort to try repeating them, even with the idea of getting to their real meaning, for they are by now too solidified and stereotyped to allow any argument without too many assumptions. So we think of taking up a few corollaries of the jargon which have to follow from their concept but do not end up in discourse because the concept behind the word is no more in vogue. The prevalence/lack of prevalence of corollaries tells us to what extent these concepts are still alive in a society. “Corollaries of Cliché-s” is meant to be a series of such short posts, each an independent one. The first is on Tolerance and Diversity.
Pluralism, tolerance and diversity of India are quite a cliché, and these ancient virtues are today both the burden Hindus have to bear in wake of existential threats and something for which their enemies (communists, liberals et al) take credit. It is tirelessly advertised that Indian traditions are “truly tolerant”, “diverse”, “liberal”, and so on. However it is never questioned whether it is the nature of people or institutions and whether today’s state and social institutions are really in line with these “virtues”. We say “virtues” and not simply virtues because nothing is a virtue unless it is natural and self-replenishing. If a virtue destroys a society and does not result in its prospering, it is merely a virtue for advertisement. If Bharata prospered for ages upholding tolerance, diversity etc as virtues it is because those are inherently aligned with the civilizational goals of this great nation and the ways in which they are sought to be achieved. They were not upheld at the expense of survival or prosperity.
It is often criticized that these became vulnerabilities when we came under invasions from intolerant monotheistic barbarians. It is an inconclusive debate whether Hindu survival in wake of extinction of most other ancient cultures and their inability to stand up to monotheism is advantaged or disadvantaged by these. But we maintain that they remained strengths that resulted in the prosperity and longevity of this civilization.
Post-independence India however, is an entirely different story. After coming out of British rule it has a “father of nation” (indicating a preposterous attempt to redefining the ancient nationhood), a new (post-colonial proxy-colonial) constitution, it is a nation-state, it is a union of states each of which is defined along the European nationhood lines of a one culture-one people-one language-one state. It is not the Bharata whose geo-political non-linguistic states remained agnostic and orthogonal to geo-cultural units. It is not the Bharata whose diversity and tolerance were present in its institutions of nation and state. It is now an India whose state has a monotheistic European nationhood concept which governs a people, a majority of which still espouse diversity and tolerance, but disproportionately empowers a fifth of its people to remain intolerant and exclusivist. It is an India that tries to be equal between diversity and monolithic nature. It is an India whose constitution disadvantages diversity and tolerance and renders these vulnerabilities that can be exploited by predatory monotheists.
Given this, it is no more true that tolerance and diversity are virtues for the majority that align to their security, leave alone advantage or prosperity. So they do become vulnerabilities, and the solution is to either give up those (which they are increasingly encouraged to with the developments) or to make an honest review and redefinition of institutions that render these virtues advantageous.
Beyond inference from institution design and increasing/decreasing numbers and voice, which establish the advantage or disadvantage of what is called a virtue, its understanding and definition as mentioned can be understood from corollaries.
Corollary: Wide Civilizational Spectrum
The first corollary of diversity and tolerance is a wide civilizational spectrum where different cultures, systems of life, layers of life are to be seen. The urban, rural and forest dwellers would all be having their own comfort zones of life and not be pressured into falling in line with one norm of “civilized life”. The long civilizational past of Bharata is perhaps the best example of such a wide spectrum where the most sanctimonious lifestyle exists along with the most apparently unpalatable lifestyle, both respected for their contributions to human knowledge and society and protected without any imposed uniform norms of judgment in the name of civilization.
Acoustics says there is an audible range of frequency that human ears can hear. A wide range of sounds exists outside of it. Similarly every civilization at every given point of time has a defined range of acceptable and unacceptable conventions of life, thought processes and practices. The strata and spectrum of life defined by western civilization has always been narrow, and remains narrow today. Life in west is too uniform and forced by convention: the urban and semi-urban life becomes their defining pattern. It does not really tell us a story that confirms the western claim that they are learning to be pluralistic and tolerant growing out of their monotheistic thought.
But what about Bharata? We are a civilization where a canDAla can stand in front and argue with a jagadguru with no fear of authoritarian persecution. We are a civilization where the most evolved grAma-nagara-mahAnagara-paTTaNa (village-town-city-port city) and cultured life existed in remarkable harmony with the tribals, the “gory” vAmAcArin-s, the sanyAsin-s, canDAla-s and so on. The different sheaths and realms of human existence thrived without threatening each other’s existence, and managed their frictions with dArSanika reconciliations from time to time. Not just that: they did not judge each other’s purpose of existence or right to their ways of life. This is squarely behind the wide range and unfathomable depths of knowledge produced by Indian traditions. This leads us to some of the other corollaries, but staying on this does today’s India value this ideal of tolerance?
The heavy urbanizing, deglamorizing of traditional villages, the preposterous attempt to “civilize” forest dwellers and several other initiatives of post-independent India affirm the exact reverse of what traditional Bharata was, and indicates that it is going by a rather anti-tolerance, anti-diversity philosophy guided by western anthropology.
I remember reading somewhere SN Balagangadhara putting Advaita and Bauddha as two extremes of Indian thought spectrum, while in fact they are only too similar. A good example of two extremes of spectrum in articulated views and practices could really be the urbane non-violent Jaina monkhood and rites of vAmAcArA in burials etc: seeing and engaging with the world and supra-natural in two almost opposite ways.
Corollary: Non-judgmental Attitude
One corollary that follows from the previous one is the non-judgmental attitude towards those dissimilar to one’s understanding of norms of civilization, dignity etc. While dignity is needed by an urbane socializing man, neither dignity nor possession nor relation management is important for a forest dwelling renunciate upAsaka who is devoted to learning the secrets of nature and the nature of truth. While this means law has some norms laid down for the social order and prevention of infringements into human liberties, it is done loosely enough to not impose any uniform norms of dignity.
One of the four ideals enlisted by Indian constitution, namely human dignity, does take a judgmental position on this matter and confines the “acceptable” human conduct and thereby life styles and ways of life. That there is an anti-superstition bill inspired by Christian intolerance in the name of human dignity is not the real problem, it is just a symptom. The problem lies in the attempt to narrow down the spectrum of human possibility through norms and the judgmental attitude behind it.
In fact in many of the inter-traditional matters it the non-judgmental attitude that defines much of the disposition of traditions. It is neither “tolerance” nor “respect” as some claim, including Rajiv Malhotra. Even a cursory examination tells us that in critiques people of one tradition neither accept nor respect the views of another tradition, and even have contempt at times. They do have respect for serious practitioners and teachers of all traditions, for their knowledge austerity etc. They definitely do not “respect” the views of those traditions. At the same time they simply do not try judging the purpose or right of others to exist as equal human beings in the same society.
Most of the modern thinkers produced in India lack the width and depth of knowledge owing to a hindering of non-judgmental attitude. Rare exceptions like Sri Aurobindo exist: we seldom see him denying any human possibility or judging its right/wrong, most of the times we see him getting into the nature of things. Traditions say everything in the world exists for a purpose, but this insight is almost lost today when norms are overwhelmingly driven by judgmental attitude.
Corollary: Mind where your freedom ends
The immediate corollary of being non-judgmental about others is valuing human liberties and space. Rights need to be earned in a constrained social space as the west, where there is so much of judgmental attitude coming top down about acceptable human conduct, dignity etc. In a society where liberties are stretched almost to their extreme possibility, terms like rights look puerile. Human liberty is high, and conduct self-regulated hinged on natural order. Only infringement of basic liberties and crime is articulated.
Corollary: Inward Looking
The most important corollary of a free, diverse, tolerant society is inward looking. While this is related to being non-judgmental about others, it deserves a separate articulation. Traditions engage much in defining their own knowledge and internal consistency than worrying about making it applicable for others. This is source of diversity, creation, freedom, human liberation.