Jaipur Lit Fest 2016 Curtain Raiser: Intolerance Runs the Game

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 curtain raiser hosted a panel around the intolerance debates.

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India
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(L-R) Sanjoy Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Shazia Ilmi,  Pavan Varma, Syed Salman Chisty and Sudheendra Kulkarni at the Jaipur Literature Festival curtain raiser. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

Two years ago an FIR was lodged against social theorist and critic Ashish Nandy, under the SC/ST Atrocity act, for certain remarks he made while speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival, the jamboree organised every year, involving some of the most prolific writes and big names in the publishing world.

No, we are not raking up a two-year-old controversy for the lack of enterprise. But to a certain extent, one can say that both the Nandy controversy and the present intolerance debate share a common rhetoric, a rhetoric of ‘hurt’ – hurting sentiments, hurting the tolerant demeanour of the nation, hurting our secular integrity.

The JLF 2015 Curtain Raiser

The Jaipur Lit Fest is back, scheduled to be organised in Jaipur from 21-25 January 2016. The organisers held a curtain raiser event in New Delhi on 3 December 2015. Like every year, this year’s festival will also witness the participation of a host of writers, artists and people invested in the liberal arts – Anjum Hasan, Anuradha Roy, Yoko Tawada, to name a few.

The curtain raiser entailed a panel titled The Need to Listen: Dialogue Versus Rhetoric. Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Head of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai Chapter, politician and ex television news anchor Shazia Ilmi, Syed Salman Chishty and JD (U) Rajya Sabha MP Pavan Varma were those who formed the panel, moderated by festival organiser Sanjoy Roy.

Caught Up in Abstractions

(L-R) Sanjoy Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Shazia Ilmi, Pavan Varma, Syed Salman Chisty and Sudheendra Kulkarni at the Jaipur Literature Festival curtain raiser panel discussion. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
(L-R) Sanjoy Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Shazia Ilmi, Pavan Varma, Syed Salman Chisty and Sudheendra Kulkarni at the Jaipur Literature Festival curtain raiser panel discussion. (Photo: The Quint)

At the risk of sounding like a contrived contrarian, I have often felt that liberal discourse around the intolerance debate have largely dealt with a set of abstractions. An argument on part of the descriptive is perhaps required. Let me explain this a bit.

One major strain of thought that emerged from the panel is that secularism, as a possible abstraction, must be preserved. And that the possibilities of dialogue should never be foreclosed. Time and again India’s long standing syncretic past and culture was evoked, stating how tolerant a country we have always been.

Dialogue and Tolerance: Are We at War?

Discursively, and politically, a dialogue is required when there is a situation which presents us with opposing, warring predicaments. And a war needs to be fuelled with rhetoric in order to be waged. The important thing to understand here is that there is a difference between language and rhetoric.

(L-R) Sanjoy Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Shazia Ilmi,  Pavan Varma, Syed Salman Chisty and Sudheendra Kulkarni at the Jaipur Literature Festival curtain raiser panel discussion. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
(L-R) Sanjoy Roy, Shashi Tharoor, Shazia Ilmi, Pavan Varma, Syed Salman Chisty and Sudheendra Kulkarni at the Jaipur Literature Festival curtain raiser panel discussion. (Photo: The Quint)

The language of everyday is what has perhaps held the secular fabric of the country together. A fabric which is now being ripped in places. Perhaps some mending is required, stitches, ‘rafu’ – which incidentally a Pakistani poet uses as a metaphor for the mending of the cultural fabric. As Margaret Atwood wrote somewhere, “War is what happens when language fails.”

Coming to what was mentioned earlier as a need for the descriptive – there has been a definite lack when it comes to addressing issues of better policies, an efficient judiciary and administration, and making law enforcement agencies inclusive and accessible.

Talks within the polity seldom look at it as a situation composed of a host of incidents and happenings when simple law and order checks would have helped in effectively handling the issue, and not letting it escalate. Otherwise, no amount of references to an ‘inclusive’ and ‘secular’ India will help the bread rise in the oven.

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