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South Asia: Let the Fringe Not Become the Main

South Asia is a melting pot, a potpourri of religions, cultures, ethnicities, languages and so on.. Such a diverse milieu is suspect in times of media proliferation to allow the fringe to become the main of extremist ideology, here is how to prevent the same.

The world is going through a period of turbulence in many dimensions, one of which is radicalization of multiple hues with threat of the fringe becoming the main. The perils have intensified due to factors such as proliferation of media, freedom of expression on social media, click baits, trend manipulation and general tendency for machoism. Thus, extremist ideologies have greater appeal than Gandhian Ahimsa which is seen as unsuited to the needs of the time.

Media proliferation has also led to greater intensity in targeting the other – be it religion, ethnicity, polity, or ideology in a venal manner which was not possible in the past given lack of ubiquity of sources. This is not to blame the medium for the message but only to highlight how the fringe can become the mainstream.

Amidst the large margins only a handful may be violent, but they are enough to trigger disproportionate response. And as the saying goes the pen is mightier than the sword, today it is the mike that is more powerful than the gun so to say and has the power to incite hatred across geographies.

While the public at large remains unequivocally against violence there is threat the fence may one day eat away the field leading to emergence of a violent society with virulent hatred within.

South Asia is particularly suscept to such a phenomenon given delicate balance of religious, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-cultural variations that make a patchwork of communities in this region.

A disturbance or distortion within has the capacity to transcend national borders be it from India to Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to India or India to Maldives and so on. Creating tolerance remains a work in progress where main role is that of politics yet frequently the onus falls on other arms of the state as the Judiciary and the Executive to maintain order. Ironically all countries in South Asia are democracies and competitive politics increasingly focuses on identities to divide rather than unite be it religious, caste, ethnicity, creed, or language. Another important factor is economic.

Economic and business relations in South Asia are secular but in times of strife divisions emerge and targeting of the other gains traction. States have a strong role to play in this vital equation by ensuring equity in distribution of economic and development goods as well as justice. If the bull dozer runs over the property of only one community, the Faultline expands.

External criticism of actions of the state are brushed aside and overall ambit of vibrancy of the democracy, pluralism and symbolism is projected as the other side of a stigma that is seen biased and unjustified. Importantly socio-cultural bonds in South Asia transcend beyond the region to West Asia with large number of migrants and a connectivity that goes back to centuries. Thus, fringe statements and actions will have an impact beyond.

As we seem to be in an era of intolerance, there are no easy answers or responses that seen evident, except to survive the times with equanimity and hope for better days ahead

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