Tolerance is the key to achieving peace

India or Bharat with its clarion call of Vasud- haiva Kutumbakam (One Planet, One Family, One Future) was powerfully showcased during the year-long pres- idency of G20.

Tolerance is the key to achieving peace

[File Photo]

In 1896 in England, Swami Vivekananda declared that India was chosen by Providence to give a new civilisation to the world and India had been doing that for ages. He asserted that India would conquer the world with her spirituali- ty. We, Indians, have no other alterna- tive – we have to do this or die. India or Bharat with its clarion call of Vasud- haiva Kutumbakam (One Planet, One Family, One Future) was powerfully showcased during the year-long pres- idency of G20. For the vast majority of the population in the country, confi- dence level is high.

“The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch…” Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, a contemporary of Vivekanan- da, had proclaimed over 150 years ago. It is my deep conviction and we are on track despite the grave peril that threatens the very survival of much of life on the planet.

Building tolerance among cul- tures and peoples in these days of ris- ing violence and insurmountable polarization within societies and among nations has increased to alarming proportions. Tolerance is respect for others’ rights and freedom. When the United Nations was estab- lished on 24 October 1945 it made three promises: (i) That it would try to stop nations from going to war, pre- vent fighting; (ii) That all human beings would be treated fairly and justly, whether they are weak or strong; (iii) That nations would work together to help each other have bet- ter and happier lives.


Sadly, humanity has failed to live up to even one of the three promises. Year after year, nation-states spend billions to come together to dialogue, craft policies, frame legal documents, review protocols, resolve conflicts, address humanitarian crises, formu- late developmental agendas, express deep concerns vis-à-vis climate, eco- nomic and political crises and what- have-you. When will we learn and grow up!

It was in 1993 at the initiative of UNESCO that the United Nations pro- claimed 1995 as “The Year for Toler- ance”. UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance was: “Toler- ance is respect, acceptance, and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” This declaration initiated the General Assembly of the United Nations for the proclamation of Tol- erance Day. One year later, in 1996, the UN General Assembly asked all Member States to celebrate 16 November as the International Day for Tolerance.

For the promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence, UNESCO created the “UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize” in the amount of US $100,000 in 1995. The prize is awarded every two years to individuals or organizations on International Tolerance Day. For the year 2022 Franca Ma-ih Sulem Yong from Cameroon, President of the NGOs #Afrogiveness and Positive Youths Africa received the Award. As a journalist she worked hard to change peoples’ perception on the way men- tal illness is viewed and represented in society. Trained in art therapy and psychology, she became the founder and president of two NGOs: Afrogive- ness Movement (#Afrogiveness) and Positive Youths Africa (PYA).

Both NGOs are peace education initiatives. Their ambition is to enable traumatized survivors of interfaith and intercultural conflicts in nine African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Togo) to heal from their trauma through the universal language of the arts. In the months that followed due to the wars in Europe and the Middle-East, the world has become even more trauma- tized and violent.

Here is the challenge for our country, where so many people live below the poverty line, where women and girls are regularly assaulted, where religious intolerance is rife, where caste divides dominate because the temporary and enabling quota system has become institutionalized into vote bank politics; where class disparities constantly threaten nation- al stability, where the 1,000+ political parties are constantly striving to grab power at any cost, et. al. These to me are the most glaring obstacles in prac- tising the virtue of tolerance and for that matter nation-building.

It is worth pondering upon how a small number of European traders could rule a country of millions? It is because rulers of princely states and their subjects were not united and they became easy prey to the false narratives of colonial masters backed by their military superiority. All of us have to think about what truly pro- motes tolerance and helps us to live unitedly amidst myriad diversity. A political process or legislation cannot remove intolerance or deep-seated prejudice. What truly harmonizes India is her spiritual and moral cul- ture – it is the only thing that can keep us together in the face of divisive forces.

As explained by Swami Vivekananda, spirituality was not a mere epiphenomenon of larger his- torical developments. Rather, it had to be an instrument for the “transfor- mation” that would come from a fusion of Eastern wisdom with practi- cal Western pluralism that contrasted spirituality with materialism, toler- ance with intolerance, transcendence with instrumentalism.

Swamiji had warned his fellow- men and women: “The idea of caste is the greatest dividing factor… all caste either on the principle of birth or of merit is bondage.” The Baha’i writ- ings emphasize that we must put behind us these prejudices and social barriers and work towards a united society. In a country divided by caste, creed and religion, progress is difficult to achieve. A country can progress only if each and every citizen can progress. Law or government cannot ensure the progress of society. It is always society that has to get working for its own welfare. Until women achieve progress, there can be no progress for the nation. The recent Bill ensuring one-third women represen- tation in the Parliament is a historic achievement.

Some of the tools for achieving tolerance in different settings of the society could be described as: (1) Col- laborative study for transformation – The transformation of the individual is not an isolated process, neither ascetic nor centred wholly on one’s self-fulfilment. Study circles open to all people are useful spaces for eradi- cating situations of intolerance and enhancing positivity. (2) Spiritual edu- cation of children – children are potentially the light of the world and at the same time its darkness. Special classes are needed to assist children to acquire moral values and a good character. (3) Empowering youth – youth programmes aimed at provid- ing them with a sense of purpose, building their confidence, enhancing their capacity for listening and prob- lem solving, and making responsible choices. (4) Devotional gatherings – turning to the Divine in prayer gives inner strength and solace from the tests and trials of life.

Two more lines of action that reinforce the four core activities are undertaking services for the poor and needy, and participating in public dis- courses. These are the lessons that provide resilience and teach the importance of tolerance. And who knows, such initiatives could become a solid framework for establishing world peace as a consequence of awakening of masses of humankind and fusion of all sections of the popu- lation regardless of caste, creed, class, nationality, race and religion.