Intolerance Versus ‘Sarva Dharama Sambhava’

Dr. Shiben Krishen Raina

In recent decades, societies across the globe have been gripped by a disturbing trend of growing intolerance, fueling strife, wars, bitterness, and animosity. This intolerance poses a grave challenge to the fundamental values of humanity and threatens to loosen the fabric of our global community.
Tolerance is the foundation upon which a civil society is built. It creates an environment where individuals can fully exercise their freedom of religion, living by the faith and values they embrace without fear of persecution or discrimination. In a truly tolerant society, every person has the right to live freely according to his beliefs, whatever they may be. Tolerance fosters mutual respect, where diverse perspectives are not only accepted but celebrated as the rich heritage of human experience.
At its core, tolerance is rooted in the idea of treating all people equally, recognizing that our shared humanity transcends superficial differences. It nurtures universal values such as love, compassion, empathy, and kindness – virtues that bind us together as a global family. While all human beings are imperfect and prone to mistakes, tolerance encourages us to extend understanding and forgiveness, rather than allowing cynicism to aggravate into resentment and hostility.
Intolerance manifests in multifaceted forms – racial, religious, gender-based, and more. Its implications are far-reaching and treacherous. First, it breeds cynicism and distrust, creating fertile ground for the seeds of violence, terrorism, and other subversive activities that hamper human progress. Intolerance fractures communities erodes social cohesion, and undermines the fundamental rights and freedoms that are the hallmarks of a just society.
Consider the tragic events of the Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave their ancestral homes and flee/migrate to various parts of the country due to the forced persecution by the frenzied people of the Kashmir valley. The number of these hapless and ill-fated Pandits is said to be around three to four Lacs.
Combating the menace of intolerance requires a concerted effort on multiple fronts. Education is paramount, especially for the younger generation, who will shape the future. By instilling in them the values of human dignity, empathy, and the virtues of tolerance, we can cultivate a generation committed to building bridges, not walls.
Equally crucial is the role of civil society – organizations, institutions, and individuals dedicated to upholding and propagating the principles of tolerance, inclusivity, and respect for diversity. When these standards are firmly upheld and championed, they become powerful forces for positive change, paving the way for a better future for humanity.
In this era of unprecedented global interconnectedness, the choice before us is clear: embrace tolerance or succumb to the divisive forces of intolerance. The path forward lies in recognizing the values of humanity, forgetting our differences, and fostering an environment where every individual can thrive without fear of persecution. Only then can we truly unlock the full potential of human civilization and create a world where peace, understanding, and mutual respect lay supreme.
Further, by learning from history and actively working towards a more tolerant and inclusive society, we can ensure that the rising tide of intolerance does not drown the values that define our humanity. Instead, we can build a future where diversity is cherished, and every person has the opportunity to live with dignity and peace.
It won’t be out of context to throw some light on the priceless idea of Sarva Dharma Sambhava.’ The literal interpretation of the term ‘ Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ is that all dharmas (truths) are equal. The term is said to be among the beliefs of Hinduism; however, it is attributable to Mahatma Gandhi. It is said that he first coined this adage. The meaning associated with the phrase is that all religions are equal. The etymology of the phrase itself clears the meaning, i.e., “Sarva – all”; “Dharma- reality or religion”; and lastly “Sambhava- equal”. This has been India’s Glorious Tradition of Religious Harmony. The need of the hour is to adhere to this Gandhian idea of “Sarv Dharam Sambhav”(Looking at each religion with equal perception). This will take our country forward and rid us of the strife, mistrust and discord we are facing.
India is a land of remarkable diversity, where people of various faiths and beliefs have co-existed harmoniously for centuries. This plural ethos is deeply rooted in the nation’s spiritual traditions, which advocate the principle of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” – an equal reverence for all religions.
This Indian wisdom upholds that truth is one, though the wise may describe it in different ways. It recognizes the inherent validity of all spiritual paths and encourages respect and understanding towards the multiplicity of faiths. Sarva Dharma Sambhava is not mere tolerance but a genuine acceptance of the legitimacy of diverse religious traditions.
Over the ages, this inclusive worldview has enriched India’s composite culture and strengthened the fabric of unity amidst diversity. From the Sufi tradition of compassion to the Bhakti movement that transcended caste and creed, India’s history brims with examples of inter-faith harmony and coexistence.
In contemporary times, when divisive forces seek to polarize societies on sectarian lines, India must remain steadfast in upholding its pluralistic ethos. Adhering to the sublime ideal of Sarva Dharma Sambhava can pave the way for mutual understanding, compassion, and solidarity among all communities.
This calls for a renewed commitment to secular values and a conscious effort to foster an environment where every individual feels free to practice his faith. Educational institutions, the media, and civil society must proactively promote interfaith dialogues, dispelling myths, and combating prejudices.
To end up, it is through celebrating our rich diversity and the unwavering spirit of inclusiveness that India can truly realize its potential as a harmonious and prosperous nation. By embracing the universal message of Sarva Dharma Sambhava, we can collectively shape a society where all religions find equal reverence and dignity.
(The writer is Former Fellow, IIAS, Shimla).

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