Among the many special days that are annually celebrated, by far the most important is the International Day of Tolerance. It is important because we are living in very turbulent times with fires of conflict raging in various parts of the world. Today we are living in a polarized world — a world divided along ideological, cultural and religious lines and hurtling from one crisis to another. This drift towards disaster needs to be stopped.
Every year, the International Day of Tolerance is observed on November 16 to raise awareness about the importance of tolerance in society. The day was designated to encourage mindfulness and faith in human rights and promote equality and diversity across the world. It followed the United Nations Year for Tolerance, which was 1995, in order to observe its teachings annually.
The theme for this year is “Tolerance is respect, acceptance, and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” To mark the day, the theme is discussed and understanding is enhanced in order to build a peaceful and harmonious society.
The day is specifically meant to educate people about the harmful consequences of an intolerant society and its adverse impact on the lives of the common people. Since there is diversity of individuals as well as nations, tolerance and acceptance of diversity alone can make for harmony and peace in the world.
The call to practice tolerance was written into the original charter of the United Nations 70 years ago. Today, in a world wracked by turbulence and change, the Charter’s mandate remains a vital touchstone for civilized, peaceful coexistence among the nations of the world.
The UN defines tolerance as respect, appreciation and acceptance of the diversity of the world’s cultures and ethnic identities. Human rights is the core of this thought. It supports the notion that humanity has the right to live in peace. The International Day for Tolerance conveys the message that education is a key factor in preventing intolerance across the globe. On this day, people are encouraged to educate and learn how to practice solidarity between ethnic, social and cultural groups.
In the age of globalization, where individuals from all communities mix and interact, peace and tolerance is the need of the hour. A society where each person is valued and respected is one that is built on the foundation of tolerance. Surely, people are more connected today but this does not mean there is more understanding. Societies are more diverse and intolerance is growing in many places. Sectarian tensions can be found at the heart of many conflicts, with the rise of violent extremism, growing human rights violations and cultural cleansing. The crisis of forced displacement in recent years has spawned hatred and xenophobia against refugees and other homeless people.
We need to recognize that tolerance is much more than passively accepting the other. It means taking positive action and understanding the other point of view. Tolerance requires investment by states in people, and in the fulfilment of their full potential through education, inclusion and opportunities. This means building societies founded on respect for human rights, where fear, distrust and marginalization are replaced by pluralism, participation and respect for differences.
It is interesting to note here that the history of International Day for Tolerance dates back to 1996 when the UN General Assembly declared November 16 as the International Day of Tolerance by passing Resolution 51/95. This step was taken after the Member States of UNESCO adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance on November 16, 1995. The Declaration says that tolerance is neither indulgence nor indifference. It is respect for and appreciation of the wide range of cultures, modes of expression and modes of living found in the world. The fundamental liberties and inherent rights of people can be guaranteed only by promoting a culture of tolerance. As people are naturally different, only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed-race communities across the globe.
The significance of celebrating the day is to create awareness about tolerance and its impact on cultures and socio-economic groups. More importantly, we need to realise that tolerance must be promoted at both personal and professional levels to make the world a better place to live.
The International Day of Tolerance emphasises the need to combat the growing threat posed by elements who intend to divide nations and communities, and work towards strengthening the culture of tolerance.
On the International Day of Tolerance, let us pledge to tread a path defined by dialogue, social cohesion and mutual understanding. States should legislate for equality and basic human rights for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. Education is an important tool to pave the path for the desired goal of peace and economic and social advancement of all peoples everywhere.