Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and the Intolerance Debate
By Ram Puniyani
The release of Shahrukh Khan’s film Dilwale (December 2015) was accompanied by protests by Shiv Sena and other Hindutva groups. These protests were supposedly against his comment on the growing intolerance in India. Shahrukh Khan; on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday few weeks ago had said that there is a growing intolerance in India and that being non secular is the worst crime for a patriot. In response to this the Hindutva cabal descended on him and he was labeled as anti-Nationalist, unpatriotic and that he should go to Pakistan. The BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargheey said that he lives in India but his soul is in Pakistan. Shahrukh did come with a sort of apology when he said that ‘really sorry if someone felt bad’, he also said that he is not saying this as his film is going to be released but that he means it. On the back of this Kailash Vijayvargiya again tweeted that Nationalists have taught a lesson to the morons (nalayaks)
It is not the first time that Shahrukh Khan is being subject to such base abuses and charges of being anti national. In 2010, when he supported the idea of Pakistani cricket players to be allowed to come for IPL matches, Mumbai Hindutva group Shiv Sena protested intensely and the posters of his film, ‘My name is Khan’ were torn. At another level he has also been the victim of global Islamophobia as he was interrogated and strip searched twice in America. The other stars who have received similar fate are Aamir Khan and Dileep Kumar (Yusuf Khan). In the current times Aamir Khan while talking on the occasion of Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award function shared his anguish that his wife Kiran Rao feels unsafe particularly for their son. To this Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP retorted that Aamir Khan is talking like Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan and that it will be better if he goes to Pakistan.
Aamir Khan in his statement clarified that he had never thought of leaving India that he will continue to live in India and quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, ‘Where head is held high…’ The label of unpatriotic and anti national were freely hurled upon him by different worthies of Sangh Parivar, and interestingly these had full sanction of the top leaders of the party and the Parivar as none of them came forward to reprimand those hurling the abuses. One of the leaders of VHP in a talk show said that when a person like Shah Rukh Khan makes such a comment; the whole community comes under the scanner. Making it clear that Muslim community is suspect for VHP and its associates.
One also recalls the plight of thespian; Peshawar born, Dileep Kumar when he supported the film by Deepa Mehta, Fire. The Shiv Sena volunteers protested in front of his house wearing underwear’s. (1998). When he was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiyaz, the highest civilian honor of Pakistan, there was a lot of protest that he should not receive it. He went on to accept the honor. The Hindu nationalists in their spree of hurling abuses on him called him anti National, un-patriotic etc. Dileep Kumar was so shaken and disturbed that he approached the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who went on to defend Dileep Kumar’s nationalist credentials. Vajpayee seems to be the only exception to the abuse hurling, keeping silent to approve what others are saying leaders of BJP and company. Incidentally India’s one of ex Prime Minister Morarji Desai was also recipients of this award from Pakistan.
What is most striking in this episode is the differential response to similar statements in the recently witnessed intolerance debate. Just to recall the atmosphere got very heated up by and by due to various factors. The statements of Hindutva leaders like Sakhi Maharaj, Sadhavi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adiyanath, Manoharlal Khattar, Kailsh Vijayvarhiya and Sangeet Som shook the roots of our society down deep. The silence of Prime Minister indicated that all this is being with full connivance of the BJP-RSS. The precipitating point came with the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and lynching of Akhlaq. The response to all this came in the form of returning awards and issue of statements by former Admiral Ramdas, academics, historians and activists. The ‘uncoordinated spontaneous’ award returning began and went on mostly till the results of Bihar elections came out. These results acted as soothing balm on the tensed nerves of the society and so the process of award returning came to a halt barring one exception of Jayanta Mahapatra, who returned award after the Bihar assembly election results.
What is noteworthy is that during the process of returning awards right from President Pranab Mukherjee to industrialists Narayan Murthy, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan all stated that there is a growing atmosphere of intolerance. Interestingly only Muslim icons were chosen for the intense attacks, doubting their patriotism! Those non Muslims were dubbed as being motivated by political reasons. None dared take on Presidents’ observations. So what does this indicate? Aamir Khan correctly pointed out that response to his statement does finally prove that there is growing intolerance, if at all there was some doubt about it. The differential response to Muslims statements and similar statements made by non Muslims gives the game away and tells us the type of mindset the RSS affiliates; the followers of Hindu nationalism and their followers have.
One recalls that in the wake of acts of terror like Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express; number of Muslim youth was being arrested recklessly. After Hemant Karakare’s investigation showed that it was the Hindutva groups with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Purohit, Major Upadhayay and Swami Aseemanand; who have role in those acts of blast; the arrest of Muslim youth got a respite. In the wake of that I remember having attended a meeting organized by group Anhad (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy) in 2009. The theme of meet was ‘What it means to be a Muslim in India?”. With great disbelief I heard prominent Muslim writers and activists pouring their heart out and confessing that they do feel that Muslims are being given a differential treatment and they have started feeling the pain of being a Muslim. Most of these friends are known mainly for being activist or for their literary contributions, much beyond their religious identity. This is what currently Naseeruddin Shah said that lately he is being made aware of his Muslim identity. And on similar vein Julio Rebeiro said that ‘as a Christian suddenly I am a stranger in my own country’.
India has been a democracy with good space for secular, plural values. This has been much better than most of the countries in South Asia, where the democratic processes are comparatively weaker. Countries like Saudi Arabia are nowhere close what we have achieved in matters of democratic processes. It is disgusting to hear when India is compared with these countries in some way. We have been pursuing a path ahead towards better human rights, not a regressive path which countries with authorization, semi fundamentalist regimes have been pursuing. To say that Indian Muslims are better off than the Muslims in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia is degrading our own system which has emerged due to the freedom struggle, our system which is trying to keep Indian Constitution as the reference point. Needless to say we do need a course correction and those following the politics in the name of religion need to be countered to preserve our democratic-plural values.