Are humans actually born free?:

Rage of intolerance against free thinking and freedom of speech in South Asia.

Intolerance to liberal views, rights of the minority, gender equality and use of state violence on groups that fight for progressive change has become a common practice in South Asia which is detrimental to the young democracies that further leads to instability, death and destruction. The cumulative effect of these incidents and state-sponsored violence has jeopardized not only the human development in South Asian countries but also the intellectual growth of the region. In particular, recently, the students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who were advocating for minority rights came under the attack of a nationalist regime in an attempt to crush down democratic secular voices. The growing intolerance towards the rights of the minorities in India; the loss of lives and destruction of property in Bangladesh due to countless recent violent attacks against persons from religious minority groups and their places of worship; the violent attacks on Muslims that occurred in several cities in Sri Lanka in 2014 and the intolerance towards the Muslims in general amongst the public exemplify a bleak future for the region, in terms of making progressive strides in securing fundamental principles of democracy. Furthermore, incidents such as the mob attacks on Churches in Pakistan which occurred in 2015 and the monarchical structure of governance that lasted for a long time in Nepal have undermined the freedoms of citizens that highlight the need to see where South Asia stands in terms of democracy and related norms of it. The arrest of the students at the JNU for sedition which is a colonial law that has to be repealed and is outdated todaday, speak to the nature of nationalist regimes, intolerance towards freedom of speech and provide for the exploitation of state power, in attacking the autonomy of independent academic institutions. Arresting, attacking, suspending and threatening the university students for protesting against the regimes has been a typical state practice across South Asia that brings liberal and progressive thinking under heavy blows. Nationalism is a process where the nationalist thinking, ethnic identities are constructed and re-constructed through discourse, culture and symbols by the regimes/nationalist factions, no matter whether they are in the global South or North, in order to ensure that the interests of the conservatives, majority communities and natives are catered in order to secure political and economic gains. In fact, construction and reconstruction of nationalist norms have been a recurrent problem with South Asian politics. In a similar vein, the sentiments of intolerance towards securing gender equality were manifested through the number of rape incidents that occurred across the South Asian countries by victimizing women, young girls and girl children, and through homophobic sentiments that denied rights to LGBTIQ individuals. These incidents have led to both negative and positive consequences where it has triggered a debate on ensuring gender equality whilst also leading to typical masculine arguments that blame the woman for her own misery. Thus, with such rapid propagation of nationalist sentiments and anxiety towards gender equality, what would the future of democracy and its fundamental principles in multi-cultural societies in South Asia look like?

Hence, we open up our very first discussion topic on ‘Rising Intolerance in South Asia’ to gender equality, minority rights and freedom of speech. We invite you to share your insights on solutions, strategies, approaches and interdisciplinary perspectives that could be applied to addressing this issue, as well as, encourage you to bring experiences from across the region, drawing upon your own knowledge and expertise, to make this discussion both an informative and interactive, as well as constructive and comprehensive session.

by Avanthi Kalansooriya (Programme Officer, RCSS)