A culture of tolerance

"Freedom of the Press, the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy", as proudly proclaimed by our Supreme Court, is not in good shape. A document published by The Free Speech Hub, an initiative of the Media Foundation, records how journalists in Kashmir have been beaten and shot at by the security forces. Journalist Amulya Pani was assaulted when he went to cover the police firing on villagers in Kalinganagar in Orissa, and journalists Moirangthem Romeo and Atom Lukhoi were arrested by the Imphal East commandos in Jirabam in Manipur, for no apparent reason.

Attacks on freedom of the press and journalists are not the monopoly of the security forces. Attacks on and vandalising M F Husain's paintings, threats against writer Arundhati Roy for her article about Maoists and the onslaught on Bollywood film My Name is Khan emanated from intolerant social and political groups. The root cause is the inability to stomach anything which is unconventional or opposed to one's idea of truth and morality. In short, it is intolerance. We have not learnt to accord freedom to the thought we hate or to a movie of which we disapprove. Regrettably, law enforcement authorities look the other way when powerful political personalities and organisations are involved. It is thanks to firm judicial intervention that freedom of expression is protected, for example in the case of the painter Husain and the actress Khushboo. However, real protection lies in a temperament, culture of tolerance in civil society. Education has to play a key role in this behalf. Practice of tolerance should be prescribed as a fundamental duty of every citizen.

The beard hazard

The treatment that was meted out to Maulana Noor-ul-Huda, a respected Islamic scholar, is shocking. An NRI woman co-passenger misunderstood his conversation to his son on his mobile and concluded that he was about to blow up the aircraft (udaane waala hoon) whereas all he had stated was "jahaaz udne waala hai (the plane is about to take off)". Acting on the co-passenger's information, Huda was forced to get off the Emirates flight to London and was arrested and thrown into Tihar jail. The woman co-passenger's misinformation got credence apparently because Huda is a Muslim and sports a beard. This mindset is disturbing. There should be exemplary recompense for the indignity inflicted upon one of our co-citizens and the mental trauma he and his families underwent. The NRI woman co-passenger must make suitable amends and should not go scot-free.

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