Opinion: India’s fringe elements and the culture of intolerance
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Opinion: India’s fringe elements and the culture of intolerance

India’s intolerant fringe elements have asserted themselves again. They have managed to keep away writer Salman Rushdie from Kolkata, held up actor Kamal Hassan’s movie in Tamil Nadu, conveniently misinterpreted a piece written by actor Shahrukh Khan, virulently attacked sociologist Ashis Nandy views about corruption by lower castes and backward communities, and forced an all-girl rock band in Kashmir to quit.

The fringe elements (FE’s from here on) in India can be broadly defined as groups claiming to represent sections of people such as dalits, Muslims, backward castes, Hindus, Bharat, India, NRI, whatever.

A more apt description should be that FE’s like to disturb, disrupt and generally create a nuisance. They universally back their points of view with threats of violence, riots, arson and looting against those who don’t listen to them.

The favorite targets of FE’s are film stars, celebrities, intellectuals, artists and sometimes cricket or cricketers. What they utter can always be misjudged or misconstrued. Loopholes can always be found in movies.

Taking on personalities creates all-round impact and visibility that FE’s seek. When there isn’t much to keep them occupied, which is not often, the FE’s pick on couples, women, vandalize an art exhibition or destroy a cricket pitch.

They beat up young boys and girls hanging out in pubs or parks for violating Indian sensibilities. In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, youngsters are taught a lesson about Indian culture by being soundly thrashed.

It is also fashionable to attack women, especially the ones that wear jeans and skirts in cities. Women in India are subjected to multiple crimes, all horrible — rapes, molestations, acid attacks, eve teasing, murder, female infanticide, trafficking and female feticide, among others.

(READ MORE: Anger, disgust, humiliation: The daily Delhi commute)

The solution, as per FEs, lies in the hands of the women themselves — suggestions include covering up, staying inside the house, no shopping, no watching movies, no going out with boys, not working, not earning. In short, women should stop living. Men will be men, so all women have to turn into nuns, is the view. The truth is, unless mindsets don’t change, women in India will not be safe.

The big question is how does one tackle the FE menace in India? Why is it that they periodically manage to bother and irritate us? Like dengue or swine flu, Indian FE’s cannot be eliminated so easily. It is a virus that has spread.

One solution lies with the media.  The Indian media, especially the national TV channels, love a FE controversy. It draws eyeballs normally addicted to cricket, Hindi movies, Salman Khan and TV soaps back to boring news channels.

News anchors scream, froth, shout, argue and quarrel in their quest to paint FEs as horrible, which is obvious to anybody.

Angry words fly about like fours and sixes in a T-20 cricket match. Self-righteous anchors pretend to be hurt and upset on behalf of the rest of India. It is a big con act.  If they truly cared, the TV people could do the country a favor by blocking out versions of Asarams periodically popped into our consciousness.

Some may be essential to highlight, but too many could just be sidelights, unheard, inaudible. The media makes bigger monsters out the FEs that only feeds the frenzy. The uglier the FEs are portrayed the more one is playing into their hands. They love it when then are abused and attacked on TV.

It gives them sustenance for more. It feeds their irrationalism. They burn more effigies, cars and shops. The virus spreads.

A further irony is authorities in India like to side with FEs. By some perverse logic those in power believe that FEs mirror the thought process of the community they claim to represent. Politicians, ever the opportunists, think it is smart vote bank politics to back FEs.

They falsely connect mercenary FEs to Bharat, the poor, uneducated, illiterate and non-English speaking larger majority and thus voters.  This is a fallacy as much as labeling Muslims as terrorists or dalits as corrupt or jeans clad women invite rape or India’s cricket captain should be changed after every defeat. The poor may have no money, but they are not brainless.

They value progress and education. They have been denied the opportunity. Truth is those in positions of power are equally wedded to the unreasonable.

Traveling in red beacon cars and surrounded by keen to use force bodyguards paid by tax-payers money, they too, like the FEs, revel in muscle power – take out a Kamal Hassan or a Salman Rushdie, make them cringe and retreat, beat up innocent aspirational, better off, English-speaking jeans-clad kids on the streets, representing little India as opposed to bigger Bharat, protesting against the Delhi gang rape.

Authorities, Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu or the Delhi police, acting like FEs are the worst case scenario. Draconian laws are invoked for piffling misdemeanors while usually slothful cops, more than eager to obey their masters, are set on the innocent. People and institutions in India need to change.

This article first appeared on the mockingindian blog