The most awaited panel discussion of the Bangalore Literature Festival was inaugurated with a beautiful message by Tasnima Nasreen on the issue of growing intolerance in the nation, which set the tone and topic for the rest of the discussion. Intolerance is not a new subject, it exists in all communities, but what the country is increasingly facing today is a conflict is between rational logical thinking and irrational faith.

So the question arises – What is the definition of tolerance? Founder of BLF Vikram Sampath was the first to take the audience through his experiences after the Award Wapsi discussion, and how what’s really important is to reclaim the space for a centrist viewpoint in the political discourse. “A vast majority belong to the centrist space. Debating and discussion have been a part of our civilisation. In the last few decades it has become difficult for artists, writers and thinkers to break boundaries and rules, but how else will new ideas emerge if this is not possible”, says Sampath.

Journalist Saba Naqvi was quick to agree and re-emphasise the need for a dialogue. “We have to have a dialogue, whether we agree or disagree, it’s important to keep talking to one another”. She drew attention to how intolerance can be positive if taken up for the right reasons i.e by focusing on intolerance against poverty and corruption etc. The kind of intolerance that we need to indulge in would be against illiteracy, corruption etc. But when you allow it to take a violent form or shape, or a conflict is when trouble arises. People need intolerance to be put on a platform of discussion, so that progress is possible.
Certain fringe elements are taking the intolerance debate to a different direction, they need to be dealt with. It’s why it’s dangerous for people to keep quiet, it’s better to deal with them instead.

But are we hyping up the issue too much and giving the intolerance debate far too much importance at the cost of neglecting other issues? It’s a possibility, according to BJP representative Sambit Patra: “The fact that a people with different definitions of intolerance can sit together and talk about it, given it’s the hot topic today, goes to show that the country is in fact very tolerant. This is the beauty of India. The kind of hoopla we have created around the issue of Intolerance is absolutely un-required.”

No political party is perfect. But agreeing that the country is absolutely fine is also like brushing the issue under the carpet. So where does one draw the line when talking about the issue of intolerance? Does the image of the country get dented in the process of prolonged discussion and protesting? This unexplored angle to the discussion was a bit of an eye-opener for the audience and also goes a long way in showing how important it is for the lay man to be well aware and educated in the happenings of the country, and above all to have a strong educated opinion. For there’s also a possibility that the uneducated, irrational, intolerant people who lynch, and defame are also perhaps the reason why India is demeaned in global eyes, and not the discussion of intolerance.
By the end of the session, the two things that most panelists agreed to were speedy redressal of grievances and a common consensus on the Award Vapsi issue. It’s important for law and order to nab the culprits. Not only should PM condemn the attacks, but also seek an explanation from his ministers. After all as Shanghvi says, “Timing and perception is everything in this context.”

As for awards – if one does not want awards, one is free to return them. But it’s important to not punish those who want to hold on to theirs.

By Apoorvah Sankaran