Intolerance Tracker – A Community Curated Visual Storytelling Platform: Siddharth Peter de Souza and Saba Sharma


In a world where breaking news cycles drive our imagination and interaction with events and incidents around us, it often becomes difficult to not to have a fragmented idea of trends because they evolve and develop so rapidly. Does this volume of information necessarily imply that we become unable to view similar types of stories because they are portrayed as isolated, anomalous and disconnected? Is this also because it is much more comfortable to forget, rather than remember and reflect on an accumulation of incidents that maybe unpleasant, inglorious and inconvenient. Amartya Sen recently stated that “The problem is not that Indians have turned intolerant. In fact to the contrary we have been much too tolerant of intolerance”. Is our numbness because we are overwhelmed by these incidents or because we perceive them to be isolated without an underlying systemic pattern?

Intolerance Tracker is a visual story telling and crowd-mapping platform that seeks to engage with some of these issues. The idea of using a map is because it provides a compelling medium through which information can be consolidated, and presented across temporal and spatial boundaries.

It aims to utilize the power of the community to identify, report and map instances of intolerance across South Asia, and organically create and curate a visual storytelling database. This initiative is primarily led by students at the University of Cambridge, and has been set up on an entirely voluntary basis by people who are passionate and committed to the cause of documenting intolerance across the region.

Intolerance Tracker arose in response to the growing number of such incidents in South Asia in recent years, whether it is religious intolerance towards minorities, suppression of dissent and protest, or the gender-based, caste-based, and race- and ethnicity-based exclusions that have become increasingly commonplace. South Asia is seen as a laboratory to study plurality but it is as much a laboratory to study incidents where attempts are made to polarize, discriminate and oppress narratives opposed to those that are considered dominant.

Each incident conveys a deep history, politics and ideology and yet they all disappear into one another and fade from our minds as another round of lynching, burning, banning or lathi charges hit the headlines. These distinct events must have more in common with each other than just the numbing effect they have on us. Surely there is something systematic in the way that power is consistently and disproportionately exercised on those who are the easiest to crush?

In an attempt to make these connections, Intolerance Tracker tries to aggregate incidents from contemporary times on a single platform, to chart their spread across time and space. The map records an incident at a particular moment in time, and it is telling of the times we live in that except in a rare few cases, it is nearly impossible to know what became of those who were targeted. As the stories drop out of the news cycles, it becomes harder to find updates, or to know if any resolutions were reached. What remains are a set of disheartening tales, all connected to each other by their incompleteness.

While such a mapping exercise would certainly be worth doing for other regions, and perhaps across the world, we chose to focus on South Asia because of the alarm we felt as residents and citizens of countries that seem to repeatedly refuse to uphold everyone’s dignity. The shared histories between several South Asian countries also make for grim comparisons in the way intolerant behavior is allowed to flourish.

Equally important, however is to also use this platform as depository where thinking through slippery concepts of tolerance and intolerance is made, without attempting to define either.  In our blog ‘Thoughts’, we attempt to examine multiple ways in which tolerance has been written about, spoken of, drawn, sung and invoked in diverse scenarios. As the evolving platform makes clear to us, there is no one definition of tolerance that suffices or fully explains how people and cultures have stayed together over thousands of years.

Intolerance Tracker will constantly be updating its map and database, to be as comprehensive and thorough a resource as possible. Through using media links, a premium is placed on verifiability and credibility of reportage. Ultimately, however, the aim is to enable people to contribute stories of intolerance, ideas of tolerance, and reflect on the growing significance of these terms in our lives. It is a call to action to recognize and report underlying trends of intolerance that influence the societies we live in and ensure that such trends are addressed and subsequently reversed.

The three partners of this initiative are:

Cambridge South Asia Watch – a group of staff and students at the University of Cambridge that attempts to foster debate on contemporary issues in South Asia. Members of this group have a diverse range of academic interests, ranging from law, politics, education, archaeology, gender, etc, primarily though not exclusively in a South Asian context. Justice Adda, which is a legal design platform that aims to produce content on law and social justice issues that is accessible, useful and usable. Timescape – a map-based storytelling platform, which enables groups of people to create and publish interactive maps

Siddharth Peter de Souza and Saba Sharma are Co- Founders of Intolerance Tracker and students at the University of Cambridge. Views are personal


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