India is one of the world’s most culturally diversified countries. In spite of its diversity, its unity has been preserved due to the ancient philosophies and values which were prevalent in the society. These philosophies and values had instilled tolerance if not mutual respect into the temperament of the Indian people. This temperament had trickled down through generations and enabled the fragmented Indian society to coexist, but aggressive external threats sought to dissolve this glue of tolerance. Where other forces failed, the British empire succeeded in dissolving the cohesion of the Indian society with its policy of divide and rule. The repercussions of the British policies can still be felt in the contemporary Indian Society.
Today India has become the world’s largest democracy, but the fragmented Indian society is threatening the very democratic nature of India. This is due to the absence of a cohesive principle which had existed in the Indian society before the divisive British rule. This principle of cohesion differs from country to country, but it depends upon the nature and structure of society. In contemporary India, it has become tough to find a new cohesive principle which is practical and stable enough to maintain unity due to the complexity of Indian society.
Analysis of the problem
The difficulty of this problem of the absence of a cohesive principle does not arise from the complexity of cultural diversity in India because this complexity of diversity forms the mosaic of Indian cultural Identity. The problem arises from something more rudimentary than what is visible. It is not possible for so many diversified people to unite on one principle, but it is possible for them to agree on the medium through which they can disagree. This medium of disagreement is integral to any democracy, but it is vital for contemporary Indian society.
Fake news, false propaganda and unverified information have plagued India today. This plague has made Indians susceptible towards manipulation by self-interested politicians who seek to capitalise on this susceptibility rather than eradicate it in the interest of the people. The disagreement of people over the verifiability of such issues and other matters of public interests, only adds fuel to the fire.
In such situations, it is essential for people to prioritise mutual disagreement over proving oneself right. Therefore, if and only if a common ground of mutual disagreement is established then there can be established a medium to resolve the disagreement. Such a common ground can only be established with the help of mutual respect for a higher priority and not out of tolerance of individual ignorance.
Tolerance and Mutual disagreement
Tolerance would never work in a democratic society especially a country like India. Tolerance is forcefully bearing something out of preserving one’s principles. Karl Popper while defining the paradox of tolerance said that “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance." This paradoxical idea implies that a tolerant, democratic society would be the cause of its demise because of its inherent flaw. For instance, religious animosity manifests in violence because people never respected religions, they only tolerated them. The Constitution of India instils democracy in the citizens which it governs by the propagation of rights and duties grounded in justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. These principles strive to secure and foster democracy for all citizens in India.
In reality, these constitutional values are not put into practice by the people in their everyday lives. They choose to adopt tolerance to preserve their principles and thoughts because it enables them to do so while remaining ‘democratic’ at the end of it. Tolerance, therefore, cannot actualise the constitutional values without compromising the democratic nature of the Indian constitution. That is why the democratic principle of tolerance will never work in a diverse country like India. Therefore, the principle of tolerance cannot aid in the establishment of a common ground of mutual disagreement in India.
On the other hand, mutual respect does not work on the ignorance of both the individuals. Mutual respect is respecting something in view of a larger principle or aim. It works on respecting and recognising the right to put forth opinions and criticisms while accepting that proving or disproving their absoluteness is not integral to the contribution of the entire discourse. Mutual respect is also pragmatic because it does not frustrate the individual to the extent of harbouring hate and enables all individuals to have their opinions. When people harbour mutual respect in discourse, there is a higher probability of removing bigotry and dogmas of the society. This is because when people are tolerant towards contradictory opinions, they turn a deaf ear to them but if they harbour mutual respect, then the will at least hear out the opinion if not listen to it. Therefore, mutual respect not tolerance is required to establish a common ground of mutual disagreement.
Difference between tolerance and mutual respect
Mutual respect and tolerance are completely different. Mutual respect does not focus on defending positions and preserving principles. It fundamentally focuses on enabling discussions by recognising the right of the person as an incumbent duty to be heard. Whereas tolerance focuses upon bearing the person’s right out of force imposed by the very principles of their tolerance. Therefore, tolerance hinges upon the literal meaning of freedom of speech whereas mutual respect embodies the soul of free speech.
Freedom of Speech and the ground of disagreement
In India, the right to freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. On the contrary, what is visible today is repression of free speech by the actions of society and inaction of people. People do not stop at the feeling of entitlement but proceed to feel the need to vanquish any contradicting opinion with violence in actions and words. This leads to incidents like mob lynching and cow vigilantism. It is mainly due to the failure of recognising the need to approach a dispute resolution mechanism like the judiciary that such atrocities are committed. If and only if the people recognise that when they have a dispute can they proceed to resolve it democratically through the Indian Judiciary. The Judiciary in India is founded in its democratic constitution, but people will not approach it unless they recognise the dispute between themselves. Thus, people need to build and agree upon a mutual ground of disagreement through free speech to preserve and foster Indian democracy with the help of dispute resolution mechanisms like the judiciary. On the other hand, there has to be a combined effort from the people as well as the judiciary to ensure speedy redressal and timely justice so as not to deter people from approaching it. Therefore, a mutual ground of disagreement is necessary for the Indian society to democratically resolve disputes and exercise freedom of speech without infringing on someone else’s right.
Right or a privilege?
This necessity of democratically resolving disputes makes the mutual ground of disagreement a right and not a privilege in India. Although what has unfortunately become a privilege in India is dissenting against the majority. The dissent of the minority is rather being suppressed than heard. It is becoming more and more difficult against the opinion of the majority. The correctness of opinions is irrelevant to this discourse of free speech of the majority and minority because what matters is something beyond the discourse itself. It lies in recognising the freedom of speech of all citizens.
Agreeing to disagree is thus integral to the freedom of speech. Free speech cannot be unlimited without wrongly infringing upon the free speech of another individual. It is this mutual ground of disagreement which stops people from infringing upon the free speech of other people. Therefore, a discourse built upon free speech cannot function without this mutual ground of disagreement. Thus, due to the gravity of its importance agreeing to disagree is a right in India.
Agreeing to disagree is a substantiation of a mutual ground of disagreement. It holds power to strengthen the hollowed unity of India by enabling a benign and conducive discourse on matters of public interest. It thus can mitigate the circumstances where free speech is being held hostage by brute force. Through all of this, it can harmonise the Indian society, and this puts it at a place where it no longer remains a privilege of the powerful but a right of the democratic.
BBC News. (2019, January 21). WhatsApp restricts message sharing to fight fake news. BBC NEWS. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-46945642
Gowan, A. & Sharma, M. (2018, October 31), Rising Hate in India. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/reports-of-hate-crime-cases-have-spiked-in-india/?utm_term=.ba7975759963
Image credits- autumnasphodel
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