The intolerant syndrome

Half a century ago, the Bhilai steel plant was a melting pot of regions and religions.

The expression intolerance, of late, seems to have dominated the national political arena spreading its venomous tentacles into the most sensitive domains of public life. I am neither a politician nor a political analyst. Like all other aam aadmis, I am bewildered by the chain of events taking place these days which seem to be ominously gnawing into the very fabric of our society longing for peaceful existence.

My thoughts at this juncture go back to about half a century, when I was in the service of Bhilai steel plant in the present state of Chhattisgarh, in which we steel men and women observed and followed our respective religious concepts and beliefs with mutual appreciation and respect without any trace of interference. The giant steel plant, replete with every conceivable cutting-edge technology, a work force of over 60,000 from all over the country and a sprawling township was a world by itself.

Being an integrated steel plant, its complex operations were fraught with potential hazards at every step. Which is why although we were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc outside the plant premises, our faith (dharma) from the top rung to the bottom inside the plant was ‘suraksha’ dharma, our religion the ‘karmachari’ religion, and our common objective the production of rated capacity of highest quality of steel to meet global competition.

This was how religion was practised in Bhilai, our own mini-India. For each  of us – be it an engineer, doctor, administrator or a field worker – our professi-onal responsibility was considered a holy commandment. The homemaker too had her own responsibility which she shouldered by bringing up children in the cosmopolitan ambience and preparing them to face the competitive world.

Let this not give an impression that we a lived a mechanised and a robotic life. It was, indeed, enviably colourful! Every linguistic group had its own cultural association, which actively organised quality cultural programmes on a regular basis providing ample scope for the talented to display their ability besides giving an opportunity for members of other regions to experience the delightfully rich heritage of mini-India!

Bound by genuine friendship, each one participated in the religious festivals and social functions of the other with absolutely no inhibition and stood by one another in happy and sad events with utmost involvement and concern, as would happen only in a well-knit joint family.

Since the plant was built with Soviet collaboration we also had a good chunk of the Russian Diaspora, who alloyed themselves with the Indian culture with remarkable ease and relish, enabling the formation of Indo-Soviet cultural forum, adding to the already cosmopolitan and truly secular character of the township.

This utopia of tolerance and harmonious co-existence is attributable to just one reason: there was no place for any politician, political group or 24/7 news channels and social media in those days, all of whom consider themselves to be self-appointed arbiters of social justice!

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