Naseeruddin Shah
Naseeruddin Shah | Commons
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Naseeruddin Shah’s comments, as well-meaning as they were, risk playing into the good Muslim vs bad Muslim binary.

When a Bollywood celebrity like Naseeruddin Shah says he fears for the safety of his children and that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer, it is seen by India’s Muslim community almost as a validation of their fears. Except, if you listen closely, it isn’t validation. It is an insult.

Shah has been cheered and celebrated for (finally) speaking up in a film industry that has largely remained silent, or has been silenced.

“If tomorrow, a mob surrounds them [my children], and asks ‘Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer,” Shah said.

Hate to break it you, sir, but the mob won’t ask. The mob never asks.

And it doesn’t matter to the mob if you are a praciticing Muslim or not. So if you choose only to speak on behalf of the non-practicing Muslims, it otherises an entire community.

Muslims suffer, Muslims struggle, and Muslims are killed in India.

Contrary to what many will have you believe, this isn’t a post-2014 phenomenon in India. If you think India was a safe and fiercely secular nation before the 2014 elections, you aren’t just in denial, you are ignorant.

What is, however, a post-2014 phenomenon is an overt realisation that as Muslims, we are largely left with two options: We either die speaking up against the atrocities inflicted on the community, or we die keeping silent. Many are beginning to choose the former, however late it might be.

In the interview, an anguished and harrowed Naseeruddin Shah emphatically says, “I feel anxious thinking about my children, because they don’t have a religion”. He adds that while he had some religious education in his childhood, his wife (Ratna Pathak Shah) received next to none. “We chose to not give any religious education to our children”.

Also read: What explains the Muslim silence in the face of BJP’s aggressive Hindutva?

To believe or to not believe-that is not the question

Shah’s emphasis on how his family is ‘liberal’, and how they ensured they do not give a religious upbringing to their children, is rather perplexing. While it may be of importance in some other context, it has little to no relevance here. This repeated need felt by elite Muslims to insist on their lack of piousness and belief while speaking against Muslim killings, is heartbreaking.

“I am not that much of a Muslim, but even I feel scared…” is a sentence you will hear often in debates about intolerance in India. What is that supposed to mean? That Muslims who are believing and practicing Islam somehow have it coming and hence deserve to be lynched? Or does it somehow justify their murder? Or even makes it understandable?

It doesn’t. The crime continues to be as abominable and horrific as it would be if non-practicing Muslims are attacked. A five-times praying Salman or Iqbal deserves as much of a shot at a dignified life as the rest of humanity.

Nor should explicit markers of a Muslim’s religious identity – the burqa, hijab, skullcap, or public offering of namaz – preclude one from a living a secure life. This shouldn’t have to be spelt out, but unfortunately, that’s what it has come down to.

Naseeruddin Shah’s comments, as well-meaning as they were, risk playing into the hands of the good Muslim vs bad Muslim binary that is in vogue in Indian public debate today.

Also read: The good Muslim-bad Muslim binary is as old as Nehru


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21 Comments Share Your Views


    • Tyler – this is homeland. India belongs to anybody who has an Indian passport. There is no other homeland…the sooner we all realize this the better.

  1. Waav. Muslims suffer, Muslims struggle, and Muslims are killed in India. what a statement. So how many 100s or 1000s or lakhs of muslees have ran away from this country like the Rohingyas or syrians or the minority Ahmadiyas , hajaras or others from countries like Pak and Afghanistan , Iraq etc? The only refugees in India are the hendu pandits from kashmir who are driven out from musleem majority religion. Musleems like you live in this country take all benefits from it and throw mud at it and blame it for all issues. India has 130 crore population. who is not suffering ? A dalit, A BC, A uppercaste poor man are these people not suffering ? If Musleems are suffering and struggling so much then how come there are so many musleem personalities who are loved and respected by all sections of the country ? if ther have been 10s of mob lynchings in last few years then there have been 100s of riots, terrorist acts and vandalism for some rohingyas or others not related to India done by musleems. Should I say Indian musleems are smugglers, rioters, terrorists based on these ? The real enemies of musleems are people like this and musleem political leaders who raise fears, mistrust, insecurity in Indian musleems and keep them alienated from the mainstream and majority. The day you start thinking and talking as an Indian with issues and not a musleem with issues, there will be a huge change for the good of the country.

  2. Fatima – you say muslims suffer, struggle in India. It is not just in India – it is everywhere. Some examples of do you know why? One of my office colleague – nice chap – sent me a friend request on facebook which I accepted. You know 99% of his posts are about Allah (PBUH)…how in the world can this relation grow? There is no way he can integrate into larger society if he keep at this. I used to live in Singapore some time back and I was looking to buy a property and all properties close to mosques were cheaper than others – the agent told me that because you don’t need ‘alarm clock’ in the morning. In a group we can joke about anyone, any religion (even dirty jokes) and nobody gets offended generally – except if there is a muslim, no one will dare make a joke on that religion because sub-consciously everyone feels that they can even kill if offended on religion subject. Religion to a muslim is above everything. Yes – there are hindu fanatics out there but the percentage of hindus who are fanatic about their religion may be 5% at best – in muslims it is the other way round.
    Mob lynching is wrong – period. N Shah should have (and we all also should) condemn that government did not control mob lynching. Don’t bring religion into everything…

  3. Nasiruddin Shah spoke not just for the Muslims but for EVERY INDIAN who can clearly see that our country is no longer what it was barely four years ago. The situation today is, either you are with the Hindu mob, or you better be scared or worried. In a way he also spoke for late Subodh Kumar Singh’s family.

  4. Naseeruddin Shah must be congratulated for having spoken up. Whether the Muslim community of India practicing or non-practicing have shown little or no response to the comments about being a Muslim and fear that the present regime has generated in the hearts and minds of Minority particularly Muslims. But being a very important personality of Bollywood it is very surprising that person like Amitabh Bachchan who has turned himself a Robbot Bachcha for what he stands for in his life cannot be said to be what he speaks for the people on behalf of the Modi Govt. Where are the other actors and actresses of Bollywood? And those who are Hindus of whom the most are non practicing Hindus are not speaking up? Tomorrow if RSS and its fringe groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad , Bajrang Dal and even BJP issue a Fatwa that all Hindus must bear a long hair at the centre of their head that gives a person identity of being a Hindu and also a big Sandal mark on the forehead and who ever does not wear that will not be considered a Hindu rather treated differently then what happens? AAmir khan had expressed his apprehension about his family and it is for one to recollect what happened to him? He had to almost apologize. And then also no one from the Bollywood spoke up including the Nasiruddin Shah.

  5. Both the article and the protagonist on whom it is written have their valid points, but about different things. The latter about his views on the increasing communal madness and the former on the fact that this is a dangerous escalation of a deeper malaise.
    The article tries to find fault or issue where there is none- what may be Mr Shah’s personal equation with his own religion. His point was about polarisation – what different political or social outcome would be achieved by split it further.
    The article unfortunately serves to undermine its own appeal.

  6. A totally warped perspective of India with exaggerated fears of persecution. Each community must accept the wrongs that they do including the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Kashmir and the burning to death of 59 Hindus at Godhra. Maybe we need to take good hard look to see who is persecuted in India

  7. Hey it’s not naseeruddin but you are wrong, he was talking about himself not on behalf of all the muslims or practicing ones. He said about him and his family and it’s you who got him wrong by generalizing it to all muslims.

  8. An actor..essays his role the best ONLY when given a script, and paid money to do so! Is he even aware of what is happening in West Bengal, which isa part of the same country he is a citizen of?

  9. So many stupid/insulting comments by hindutwa right wing on this article.
    Let’s be clear.
    Naseeruddin shah’s views are valid, his fears voiced are valid, and the fact he did not speak about certain events like muslim mob invading mumbai etc does not make his views invalid. There’s no logic to that.
    Similarly, if someone was upset about a muslim mob in mumbai desecrating the national flag, its a valid view and if that someone did not speak about bulandshahr or any other event where muslims targeted, doesnt mean his views on mumbai muslim mob loses validity.
    The real problem is when those in power fan prejudice and bigotry, through their actions and official sanction. Certainly, in U.P, adityanath acting flagrantly to protect the killers of the bulandshahr and the killers of subodh singh the police officer, falls in the category of official bigotry that acts as a wolf whistle to his mob-followers to target muslims everywhere with impunity. So Naseeruddin shah, and lt gen zameeruddin, were quite right to voice their concern. Surely a muslim targeting mob is not going to quiz bearers of muslim names or even appearance (beard etc) about their beliefs or debate them, but rather it will act as a murderous mob with impunity.
    As the author says, this didnt happen suddenly after 2014, but now such behavior is becoming respectable and there is the problem. Perhaps certain muslims like the mumbai muslim mob, other instance of muslim violence felt it ok to behave in a certain way before, but there’s no tit for tat that will solve such issues.
    Its not merely about secularism, but about rule of law. There can be no whataboutery. This is the problem due to the yogi adityanath government which was not existing with other CM’s before – open encouragement of mob violence and religious bigotry.

  10. The author is completely ignorant to the fact that in many parts of उत्तर pradesh lot of Muslims openly insult the country they live in, fly their पाकिस्तानी flags on the roof and create ruckus. Yeah one thing has changed पोस्ट 2014, दे are now challenged and that is why it hurts… For them…. Miss Khan get your facts straight. Not every hindu is bad and not every Muslim is good and mother India lover.

  11. This article definitely written by a person with cheap intentions and Anti Hindu mentality or Hindu phobia.
    He continued his arguments claiming Muslims are killed everywhere. It’s a false propaganda, with killing silence never rised the bomb blasts by Muslims in all parts of India for more than 20 years. Kashmiri killings, Kerala iss joinings of Muslim youths.

  12. Naseeruddin Shah is not entirely wrong into believing that those wearing/displaying Muslim religious symbols, are more at risk. But being an actor who portrays sensible characters, he should have chosen not to highlight the fact that he n his family are ‘moderate’ Muslims!

  13. I was surprised……Compassion of the life of cow and human being done by an actor ….Was it on purpose…..In india….We call it as cow mata……..Both r important…..But it is not possible that one particular sect…Keep killing cows to incite violence….And liberals keep blaming…..The other sect….Is he doing this only for pecuniary benefits…Needs to be investigated…..Great work by few NGOs in this regard….They get funding from abroad only to create mischief…And hav the…Likes of these anti national on their playlist.

  14. Naseeruddin Shah’s voice is heard with respect by many Indians, barring the piranhas, of course. When he underplays his personal religiosity, or the fact that he has a Hindu wife, he is not distancing himself from the community to which he belongs. He is trying to tell Indians in general that modern, educated, secular – if one may use that now loaded term – Muslims too are picking up unwelcome vibrations. Others are more precariously placed than them, more at day to day risk. There have been communal riots from time to time, Muslims have faced prejudice in the matter of housing and employment. These things are not new. But there is now a satan bug in the air. Foundational beliefs about our constitutional order are being sought to be overturned. Muslims have been patient, kept their heads down. That may change and the consequences more than we are bargaining for. So Muslims of good conscience should continue to speak up.

  15. Very well written… can always be a practicing Muslim and he/she should not be alienated from the fold when we are talking about protection and security…..We need people like Mr Shah voicing their concerns but they just represent the elite few who take pride in saying they are Muslims only as their name suggests. Mr Shah I am a great admirer of Ur work and I really liked what u said…but on second thoughts I felt you should have been more inclusive .

  16. Nitpicking!
    Of course it applies to all human beings of all religion, whether orthodox or liberal.
    He is merely stating his position as a matter of fact.
    What he said was that death of a cow has more significance than a police officer.
    The police officer incidentally was a high caste Hindu!
    Did he then mean a Hindu?
    Obviously he meant a human being even when he was a Hindu.


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