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#tolerancemeans realising solidarity, fraternity and dialogue

Updated: Apr 8

Tolerance is often relegated to the backseat in a legal context. The word conjures images of begrudgingly enduring oppositional values, instead of wholehearted acceptance of different strands of thought. As a lawyer and a law student who is constantly grappling with concepts of equality and dignity on a regular basis, tolerance has been low on my radar of legal and personal values. Why do I need to rely on tolerance, when principles of equality, dignity and other rights would serve a better purpose? However, through the years, I have realised that a naïve dependence on only legal concepts such as equality, liberty or dignity has severely limited application without a bona fide application of tolerance. I, therefore, argue that tolerance carries immense value in the form of fraternity, solidarity and dialogue. 

Almas Shaikh, Graduate, University of Oxford

Dr Ambedkar, a legal philosopher and key draftsman of India’s Constitution evaluated the value of fraternity: “Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.” Nevertheless, there cannot be a complete realisation of fraternity without tolerance. Fraternity is a way to relate and bring together plurality of opinions. Without a tolerant approach, fraternity’s goal of pluralism would break down. Tolerance is, thus, a subterranean value that upholds fraternity. 

Similarly, fraternity cannot be practiced in vacuum. It goes hand-in-hand with solidarity – whether it is jurisprudential, institutional and community-based. Solidarity is an important legal principle which recognises the social value of sharing human experiences. Within the European Union, Prof. Guido Alpa argues that solidarity is a normative principle, endowed with philosophical and moral significance, which can be used to realise socio-economic rights. Solidarity is buttressed with tolerance – an understanding that despite the myriad encounters among different groups and individuals, our humanity is a bigger shared goal that needs to be upheld and respected. 

Using fraternity and solidarity together ensures open dialogue. United Nations has recognised that promoting fraternity and solidarity is bolstered through dialogue. This provides an antidote to hate and divisive rhetoric; to censorship and violations of free speech and expression. We need tolerance in receiving and reciprocating different, often opposing, ideas. It provides the space to exchange viewpoints, in the belief that they will be received in good faith. 

Most confrontations could be solved outside the courtroom using tolerance – with a healthy dose of solidarity, fraternity and dialogue. Solidarity, fraternity and dialogue are important tools within law, morality and philosophy – however, none of these values will be half as strong without the underpinning of tolerance holding up these values. 

Recognising tolerance as a legal value is also imperative to maintain the strength of tolerance. It is not a mere idealistic vision, or an altruistic choice. It can be used to bridge relations, strengthen legal values and build a cohesive society. For me, tolerance means the ability to realise solidarity, fraternity and dialogue – the cornerstones of any democratic and liberal society.


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