Alt – Tolerance


When I started this blog, I had given myself a few guidelines. One was that I would try to refrain from putting up political or religious statuses/comments or posts here. The reason was pretty simple. I hardly engage in such discussions on social media or on Internet discussion boards. They have a tendency to turn vile (and wild), and things almost often take a turn for the worse. It was also because of what I am about to ‘write about’ in this post.


But today, I feel like I need to. I am painfully aware that neither me (nor anyone else) writing these thoughts out will make any difference to the world around us or how the world perceives everything else these days. However, I believe I have personally reached a point where I can no longer feign that I am not affected by all this.


I am not fiercely patriotic. Or fanatically religious. I don’t think I ever have been. However, for as long as I can remember, there was always one thing that would make me immensely proud – yes, almost goosebumps-inducingly-proud when I heard it – that our country was one that epitomised ‘Unity in diversity’. Or so I had been told.


But over the past decade or so (perhaps even longer), I have realised something. We remain divided because of our diversity. Somewhere along the way, we have become more divided about things that had united so many of us growing up in the pre-2000’s. Of course, tensions and issues existed then too. But it has alarmingly gotten worse over the last few years.


Much of my childhood was spent in a vastly multi-cultural-inter-faith-geographically-diverse company of people. Adults and kids, alike. I remember being excited about having friends from different states and countries, who spoke different languages. It ensured that I grew up curious about other cultures, not cautious. It also meant that I had an opportunity to pick up new languages, interact with people from different places and therefore open a treasure trove of experiences. To me, having these sort of friends meant that I had so many more festivals to celebrate than just the ones that were ‘predominantly’ for one state/country/religion. And that has somehow helped shape me into that religiously and politically tolerant person that I am proud to be today.


In fact, I vividly remember one Eid when we opened our doors at noon to find a huge container of freshly cooked Mutton biriyani on our front porch. I was initially taken aback, not because of the sudden appearance of food, but because adorning the top of that container was the gorgeously-stuffed head of a goat. On one hand, I was drooling over the delicious aroma of the meat-laden biriyani. On the other, I was totally in shock over the head. But my father just smiled. Our neighbours were from Sudan, and apparently, where they come from, it is considered to be one of the highest honours to be offered a stuffed goat’s head along with the biriyani. It signified respect. And that’s something you earn, not demand.

And today, when I read discussions about people ghettoising territories on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion and a gazillion other factors, I find myself longing for simpler times; in many ways, technology is the culprit, as much as it is the solution. I fear for the generations to come, who may be inadvertently forced to make friends only from within their faith or geographic circle. I fear for the very things that make all of us human.


Let me be honest – I am not against people having their own faiths or even being immensely proud of their culture, religion or heritage. In fact, that’s what keeps the diversity intact. But what we seem to have forgotten is that along with that diversity comes the need for tolerance. Religious. Geographic. Political. And all other kinds.


I confess – Tolerance is not about showing the other cheek when someone slaps you.


Tolerance is about realising that we can all live together without the need to impose our faiths, beliefs, food or political affinities onto others.


It is about riding out together, this giant wave of suspicion that crosses our minds when we look at someone who is different to us.


It is about coming together to support a cause for the betterment of humanity, our kids, the future, our planet – the common bigger good.


It is also about learning to realise that segregation is never the solution to our problems. Standing by each other is.


I have my battles with my parents. On a number of things. From weight loss to achievements in life. But they have never let me be biased about any person or place, on the basis of religion, faith, beliefs, food or anything else. They have shown me what tolerance truly is. And for that, I will always be thankful to them.


I parent in the hope that I’ll be able to bring my son up the same way.


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  1. I really liked this article from my inner heart. Never think that you can’t change the world with a pen. The history says Different. I have already shared it on my social profiles. I must say Mr. Sid Balachandran the blog you have is awesome!

  2. Thank you so much for this nice article. I agree with you. You can explain all the point very well and i like to read this article you can write it very well.

  3. I agree so much with this, Sid. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it is annoying when it simply becomes a rant on social media, pulling each other down. It’s sickening!
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  4. I feel social media is showing the wrong side of things. I am from the large Armed forces fraternity, being married to a man in uniform. This fraternity has people from every thinkable religion. Yet there still exists unity, there is a community celebration of every festival. And all the men, irrespective of their religion, work towards the same goal of protecting the nations interests. I havent really lost faith… Unity in diversity still exists
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    1. Ramya,
      The unity exists in many small pockets. I have never denied that. But the ones who act on social media are also part of the everyday humans who are wanting ghettoisation and the rest.
      I’m not losing faith entirely.

  5. I agree with so much in this post! I grew up with a diverse group of neighbours myself, and I got an education in the real sense in the meaning of unity in diversity. I’ve often wondered myself what exactly some people are ranting about online because I have never had trouble following my religion AND being respectful of others. To say the opposite these days gets one branded anti-nationalist and library and whatnot. And even on the other side of the spectrum, there are some “liberals” who seem to be deliberately provocative. I myself, do not discuss politics or religion online as much as possible, but I do have these discussions offline. Online, I think, no one is willing to listen , information only flows one way. That’s my two cents on the issue.

    1. Thanks, Vijayalakshmi. It’s heartening to see that there are others who grew up in similar ways to the others, and as you rightly said – it has become all about ‘labels’ these days. Being branded something or the other.
      Perfectly put about the online *discussions* – it’s like talking to a radio.
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  6. Thank you for writing this. The fact that some folks who I have met through blogging, and cared for and respected for their talent, are so bigoted in their philosophy that it is distasteful.
    And Social Media comprises of people, not Martians. It definitely reflects what people are thinking today. Let us not be under any illusion that people on SM are somehow more intolerant than others.

  7. Like you, I am not fiercely patriotic or religious. I have my opinions but they are usually not on social media. I believe in being human vs thinking about which culture does what. I think our parents did the right thing by bringing up with such open mindedness and acceptance. And I am confident, you are doing the same with R.
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    1. I like how you say ‘I have opinions, but not usually on social media’ – clap clap 🙂
      That’s true – it just becomes too exhausting to have a conversation some times.
      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Parul
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    1. Correction, – I don’t engage in discussions about politics and religion on social media 😛

      The only intolerance I generally exhibit are towards really really really stupid people.
      Sid recently put up this awesome post : Alt – ToleranceMy Profile

  8. Sid, some topics are such that we should speak out. I can give a mytho example here. By keeping quiet, we are supporting it by default. We keep silent saying it is not our problem. But, it will become our problem soon and we won’t be able to do anything about it.

  9. Couldn’t agree more, Sid. It is really a sad state of affairs that so much venom is being spilled out by folks who seem to take a stand one way or the other and get even more divided on issues that should instead have brought everyone onto a common platform. I always stay away from such discussions because it only widens the gap with those who don’t see things the way I do! Very thought-provoking piece of writing!

  10. When dad worked at his printing press, he had a Muslim friend – dad’s close friend – who would send over meat during Eid to our place, despite the fact that none at home had the culinary skills to convert the meat into a scrumptious biryani. He was always there with dad in a crisis and so was dad, at his place. Back then, to the child in me, it wasn’t really anything unusual . He may have been a Muslim, and we Maharashtrians, but for me, we were just great family friends. Sadly, all of it changed with the 1993 bomb blasts that rocked our city. Uncle and dad would rue over the sad state of our city. But, the deed had been done. That’s when people started looking at a particular religion as one that evoked fear. And, that is when, I feel, the fabric of our country began undergoing the change that is today regarded as ‘intolerance’. And, from the way things are going – from bad to worse – the pessimistic me wonders if we will ever go back to being a tolerant country who respected its diversity and lived in a harmony that could put other countries to shame.

    I so loved your post, Sid. I was moved by your words!
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    1. Firstly, I love it that you leave such long and detailed posts on the blog as comments. It’s such a refreshing change from the ‘Nice post’ type ones that we all usually get.
      And secondly, it’s such a delight to know that there are others who have similar experiences to mine.
      Yes, all of theses diverse practices, religions and faith existed then too – but it just helped us understand things better. Not just see things the way we wanted to see.
      Sid recently put up this awesome post : Alt – ToleranceMy Profile

  11. You know I have been the perpetual outsider from childhood growing up in Meghalaya, UttarPradesh and now Karnataka. I always thought being an Indian in India was enough but I guess not. I have been abused by strangers and also by friends, misunderstood. So, I have stopped saying anything now. And it’s true for politics, religion or anything else. I have decided to keep blabbering and boring people about parenting and feminism only!
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    1. Oh, I can so imagine your plight, Naba. It’s such a shame that it has all come down to be like this.
      Blabbering about Parenting and Feminism is good too – at least people are slightly more ‘tolerant’ on those topics. Of course, parenting more than feminism – the latter can be a sticky wicket some times.
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  12. Love this article. I think a lot of our views come from how we are brought up. It was a norm at our house to make payasam for Vishu or biryani for Eid even though we were Christians. It was more about having the day off and eating good food, I admit, but I realise how important all those were. In Kerala, we had friends and neighbours from all religions and it didn’t seem like anything could be wrong in each person having personal religious beliefs. We all grew up together, celebrated festivals together, ate at each other’s houses etc. The same was the case in hostels when we were growing up- we would celebrate everything.

    But now I see that there is a lot of division in the world (let me downsize it to cities) now.
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    1. Thanks, Resh!
      And spot on – now that’s what I call unity in diversity. I stayed in a number of hostels during my academic endeavours too, and yes, there was never that feeling of being say, a Hindu amongst 100s of other muslim kids or anything else. In fact, I studied in a school that was in Malappuram – staying in a hostel there, celebrating Eid, Ramzan and what not.
      Sigh. Simpler, happier times.
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  13. These thoughts give me a migraine and I take the easy way out and sweep them under the mental carpet, like the coward that I am.

    I live in a university campus that houses people from all over India and of all faiths. My immediate neighbours are from Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Maharashtra, UP, Odisha and Kerala. I am so glad that my 13 year old grows up in such an environment. However it freaks me out about how she badly she would be scarred when she gets out of this campus and sees the real world torn apart.

    Sometimes I feel that I should take out to the streets and fight for tolerance. Sometimes I feel the best way to deal with it is to shut up and not bring attention to an evil and make it proliferate more. Then I lie down and take a nap.

    1. Haha! I wouldn’t call you a coward – sometimes it is best to stay away from all this.
      That’s so cool – that you have immediate neighbours from all over, and it’s an amazing experience.
      From whatever little I’ve learnt in life, I will always remember that the experience that I’ve had as a child and my formative years, always helps in the future.

      a Nap sounds perfect right about now.
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  14. Such a thought-provoking post Sid. It saddened me. This ghettoisation you spoke about is now a worldwide phenomenon. Whether it is the voting in of Trump or Brexit or even right here in India it’s ‘me and mine’ versus ‘them’. Our parents never told us/ taught us to be tolerant – we just were – we imbibed it from the atmosphere around us. Now it’s the other way round – while we are consciously trying to bring up tolerant kids, the atmosphere is vitiated. And it isn’t restricted to social media. Personally, that is something I can completely avoid, but it is all around us. The diversity has become divisive. And that’s really sad for a country like ours.
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    1. It saddens me too, Tulika. I mean, I don’t disagree that there are differences and other things that inherently makes one feel closer to their heritage. But why make it the point of debate, instead of announcing it all so proudly and saying ‘Look – we stand together’.
      Diversity has become divisive indeed. In fact, I just read some guy on Twitter talking about how they have been Kannadigas for 2000+ years and Indians only for 70-odd.
      And there-in lies the problem.
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  15. I feel the situation is bad because of media. They spread so much negativity and fuel the already existing hatred … The pre 2000 were simpler times. We trusted people and accepted their ways and culture. Now we wish everyone to mould according to our opinions. You have expressed the feeling quite well. I loved the fact about goat head. In our case it’s the fish head. Imagine the horror of my non fish eating husband’s face when my Mom dumped a huge fried fish head on his place… With eyes and tongue and everything 🙂
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    1. I suppose you are right – Media, technology and of course, social media. All of these come together, adding fuel and highlighting the existing differences.
      Ah, yes! I’ve heard about this ‘fish head’ thing too. It can be quite an unsettling experience. But it helps knowing where it comes from.
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  16. I think I have only seen these divisive narratives on social media and media that at least I ignore. On the ground, in our homes, neighbourhoods and schools, I haven’t encountered any experiences where children single out other children on the basis of their religion or caste. We continue to live in diverse society and always. will. Of late, it is the language hegemony which children face at school. There is a lot of resentment in the minds and hearts of many local people which their children carry forward. Sad reality but true.
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    1. They mostly exist on social media – at least, around us. But I also see them outside too. Again, perhaps not so much amongst the ultra-urban populace, but it does exist.
      The language issue just adds to all of this.
      At least, we are doing what we can to ensure that kids aren’t biased towards others.
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