Rajan joins debate on intolerance, calls for mutual respect

Rajan joins debate on intolerance, calls for mutual respect
Joining the debate on growing intolerance, Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan today said said tolerance and mutual respect was necessary to improve the environment for ideas and physical harm or verbal contempt for any particular group should not be allowed.

Asserting that India's tradition of debate and an open spirit of enquiry is critical for economic growth, he said encouraging challenge to all authority and tradition would rule out anyone imposing a particular view or ideology because of power.

Against the backdrop of growing intolerance in the wake of Dadri lynching and subsequent acts of violence, he also said protection of right to question and challenge was essential for India to grow.

"Tolerance means not being so insecure about one's ideas that one cannot subject them to challenge--it implies a degree of detachment that is absolutely necessary for mature debate.

"Finally, respect requires that in the rare case when an idea is tightly associated with a group's core personality, we are extra careful about challenging it," Rajan said delivering the convocation of IIT, Delhi, his alma mater.

He said tolerance can take the offence out of debate and indeed instill respect. Reacting to his speech, BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy tweeted, "He (Rajan) should go to RBI and do his job; He shouldn't speak like a grandfather."

Former finance minister P Chidambaram asked will the BJP say that Pranab Mukherjee's and Raghuram Rajan's speeches today against intolerance are also "manufactured protest?"

BJP spokesman Sambit Patra said "we welcome his statement. There is tolerance and that is why we are progressing."

Citing the example of United States where burning of the national flag no longer triggers a reaction because the society over time has become tolerant of the act, the Governor said it is also no longer used as an instrument to shock.

"In sum, if group sentiments becomes more tolerant and less easily hurt, the actions that try to hurt will diminish," he said.

He quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say "the golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different points of view."

Rajan said all ideas should be scrutinised critically no matter whether they originate domestically or abroad, whether they have matured over thousands of years or a few minutes, whether they come from an untutored student or a world famous professor.

"So nothing should be excluded but everything should be subject to debate and constant testing. No one should be allowed to offer unquestioned pronouncements. Without this competition for ideas, we have stagnation," he said.

Another essential aspect, the Governor said, was protection of specific ideas and traditions but the right to question and challenge, the right to behave differently so long as it does not hurt others seriously.

"In this protection lies societal self interest for it is by encouraging the challenge of innovative rebels that society develops," he said.

Fortunately, he said, India has always protected debate and the right to have different views.

The RBI Governor said actions that physically harm anyone or show verbal contempt for a particular group, so that they damage the group's participation in the marketplace for ideas, should certainly not be allowed.

"Sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal, has no place in society. At the same time, groups should not be looking for slights any and everywhere, so that too much is seen as offencive; the theory of confirmation bias in psychology suggests that once one starts looking for insults, one can find them everywhere, even in the most innocuous statements," he said.

On whether ideas or behaviour that hurt a particular intellectual position or group be banned, he said: "Possibly, but a quick resort to bans will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect."

Rajan said if what you do offends me but does not harm me otherwise, there should be a very high bar for prohibiting such acts.

"After all, any ban, and certainly any vigilante acts to enforce it, may offend you as much, or more, than the offence to me. Excessive political correctness stifles progress as much as excessive license and disrespect," he said.

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