I have always held Ratan Tata in very high esteem. He is a man who measures his words, uses them sparingly, and when he does speak in public, one sits up and takes notice. Therefore when he spoke at the 119th foundation day function of the Scindia School in Gwalior on Saturday, against the growing tide of intolerance in the country, it isn’t something one would dismiss lightly.
To quote Mr Tata, “We want to live in an environment where we love our fellow men. We don’t shoot them, we don’t kill them. We don’t hold them hostages but give a bit of ourselves and we give and take.” He added, “I think everybody knows where the intolerance is coming from, what it is. Like many thousands, millions of Indians, one wants to see a country without intolerance.”
That the Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, known for his taciturnity on public issues, would choose to speak out again the growing trend of intolerance, calling it a “curse we are seeing of late,” is not just a not of mere caution, it is bugle worthy level of alarm.
Mr Tata has spoken about intolerance earlier, back in December 2015, during the launch of Khan Academy, where he mentioned that “Education, job satisfaction are issues that will help reduce or eliminate intolerance because it will be replaced by knowledge. Our country has lived in harmony… we’ve to work together, we’ve to live together and continue do so, and not contribute to the intolerance that is growing in the world around us.”
At the time, the country had already seen the spectre of intolerance begin to be spoken about, with the founder of Infosys, N R Narayana Murthy speaking up about minorities living in fear in India. We have been seeing this ‘intolerance’ escalating. The small innocuous incidents, the banning of things, then escalating into the horror of mob lynching, vigilantism, all self appointed with the impunity that acceptance brings, the tacit acceptance of the vitriolic us versus them narrative that has infiltrated our public discourse at the ground level and more worryingly, the complete lack of civility and logic in the binary that has become the prescribed format of debate these days. Someone wise once said, “What you allow is what will continue.” We need to step back and reflect on what we are allowing, and look ahead at the ramifications if this is allowed to continue.
Are we morphing into a mob from a people? The thought itself is worrying. We were a people, cohesive, assimilative, and yes, tolerant. I’d like to think we still are. That it takes a Ratan Tata to remind us to pull ourselves back from the brink is what is worrying. It wouldn’t take too much strident clamouring from the mob to drown out his voice.
Views expressed are personal. Kiran Manral is an author and columnist. She tweets @kiranmanral
Feature Image Credit: Financial Express