ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Paltry Vanities of Intolerance

The terms "tolerance" and "intolerance" that dominate our public discourse today are bandied about as if they were self-explanatory. Matters have come to such a pass that intellectuals are accused of subjecting the Prime Minister to a barrage of intolerance since 2002. At this precise moment of our political history it might be worthwhile to revisit the debate on toleration in political theory, and raise once again a core question: why is toleration a political virtue; indeed, why is it an essential asset of a good society?

The partition of Punjab in 1947 has gone down in history as one of the worst cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and forced mass migration. But in one part of the region, a small principality called Malerkotla defied the bloody logic of partition.1 (The other exception was Kadian, the headquarters of the Ahmaddiya community.) Excepting a few members of the aristocracy, for the Nawab and the Muslim inhabitants of Malerkotla, migration to Pakistan was simply not an option.2 Nor did Malerkotla witness the sort of communal rioting that irreversibly scarred collective memories in Punjab. Sardar Balwant Singh, the Minister of Law and Order in the state in 1946 wrote,

One Lac Muslims from other areas of Punjab took shelter in Malerkotla State. Not to speak of riots, even a single killing did not take place in the whole State. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs lived like brothers having harmonious relations among themselves with the grace of the Almighty and blessings of Guru Gobind Singh. All the Muslims converged at Malerkotla were safely sent to Pakistan with the assistance rendered by Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister of India. He, on our request, sent one battalion of army to help our army to send them to Pakistan border.3

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