Forty-nine Bollywood celebrities, artists and theatre personalities have spoken out this week about the allegations of growing intolerance and mob lynchings under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule in India. Curiously, not a single signatory of the open letter was a Muslim superstar.
This, in an industry whose reigning troika is Muslim– Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan. The silence of the Khans is deafening.
The three have ruled Indians’ hearts and collective imaginations for over three decades with their tales of love, heroism, and justice. But now, Bollywood’s Khan-trinity has nothing to say. Indian society has been completely left to fend for itself in the face of unexplainable hate that has gripped an otherwise ‘ganga-jamni tehzeeb’-type national consciousness. This, in spite of people like the Khans who hold the kind of power and influence to appeal to peoples’ conscience. A shining example of this is how Islamophobia-related hate crimes lessened in Liverpool since soccer star Mohamed Salah joined the club.
So, why is it so hard for the three Khans to speak the obvious?
I was wrong about India
It wasn’t always like this. Two Khans did try to speak up against intolerance. But they have now fallen silent.
On 2 November 2015, Shah Rukh Khan said: “There is extreme intolerance. Intolerance religiously, not being secular in this country, is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot.”
Roughly a month later, on 16 December, the same man said: “Sab kuch bahut acha hai humare desh mein. God Bless India, KOI PROBLEM NAHI HAI, aur mere saath kisi ne kuch intolerate(sic) nahi kiya hai.”
That’s pretty much all the thick skin the ‘Badshah’ of Bollywood had to tackle the trolling and abuse that came his way once he addressed the rising spate of hate crimes in India.
The year 2014 saw three incidents of cow-related violence by mobs with 11 victims – 73 per cent of them were Muslims. The following year, the number of incidents rose to 13 with 49 victims and 11 deaths – 50 per cent of the victims were Muslims. The year 2016 turned more brutal – 67 victim and 9 deaths – while 2017 saw mob violence reaching its peak – 108 victims (with 13 killed), 60 per cent of them Muslims. So far this year, 71 per cent of the 42 victims are Muslims, with one person killed. These numbers are only for incidents that have been perpetrated in the name of cow.
So, Why does it bother me that the Khans remain silent on this? Because at the other end of the Bollywood spectrum are the Anupam Khers and the Kangana Ranauts. They leave no stone unturned when it comes to hero-worshipping the very government under which intolerance towards minorities has seen a rise, while spewing hate themselves. Just look at the tweets of Paresh Rawal, Payal Rohatgi and Koena Mitra.
Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists immigrants should NOT be removed from India as as their religion originated in #Bharat. They have #ancestralhistory. Muslim immigrants should be removed from India as their religion didn’t originate in Bharat, we have given 2 countries from Bharat 2 them. pic.twitter.com/hcE1L5X0vy
— PAYAL ROHATGI & Team- Bhagwan Ram Bhakts (@Payal_Rohatgi) April 14, 2019
— Koena Mitra (@koenamitra) August 4, 2018
Veterans like Amitabh Bachchan also don’t shy away from politically motivated statements. He rightly criticised the petrol hike during UPA 2, but simply became oh-so-oblivious to the petrol hike when it happened under the Modi government.
Add to this mix, the new Ducati-riding gurus. On a daily basis, they dish out unscientific mumbo-jumbo. This further helps Right-wing ideologues, who lack a scientific temper, and peddle quackery. And people love it. You need to watch Nityananda or Jaggi Vasudev to know what I’m saying. But when these gurus embellish their “enlightenment” workshops with statements like “liberals are fanatics”, things become dangerous.
Liberals have been murdered for less.
I’m not really political
Maybe it’s not the Khans’ job to speak up against the social and political climate.
Maybe I’ll accept this argument. Maybe their job is to sit in their vanity vans and go about living their lives – setting their hair, getting a six-pack, playing themselves on the big screen repeatedly (not you, Aamir)!
They don’t need to be political. They don’t need to talk about things that’ll bring their Friday earnings down from Rs 300 crore to Rs 100 crore. I get it. Fair enough.
So, toeing the line of the government is fine because you’re doing this for the larger good, but calling out the ills in society for the larger good of society is wrong because you’re not political like that? I need someone to decipher this hypocrisy for me.
I didn’t do/say that
The Khans are particularly sensitive because they are artistes and you’re not supposed to harass these sensitive beings into doing the right thing. You need to let them do it at their own pace.
The thing is, all of them did do the right thing, and they all retracted from it.
So, it’s not sensitivity but cowardice.
Aamir Khan, in very clear terms, spoke about intolerance and how he and his wife discuss leaving the country.
He, just like Shah Rukh Khan, not only retracted his statement but went to the extent of saying that what he said was “something that was not true”.
Salman Khan, though, did not pretend to be concerned at all. He went ahead and campaigned for the party of his choice, the BJP, which, to be fair, is completely honest of him. Soon after, he was acquitted from the hit-and-run case, in which he had allegedly driven over people sleeping on the pavement, killing one. Since then, he’s conveniently gone radio silent politically.
I can’t see it
Many Right-wingers suggest that India is secular because the Khans are at the top in Bollywood. So, the Khans should be ashamed of themselves to talk about ‘intolerance’.
What the Right-wing ecosystem forgets is that the exponential rise of their ideology in India is only half a decade old. The Khans became the sensations that they are in the early ‘90s. They didn’t rise through hate. They rose in an India emerging from the clutches of license raj and getting cable TV.
Films ditched the overdone angry young man for the loveable boy next door. And the Khans fit perfectly.
And probably, the Khans didn’t get this new memo.
Hate is gushing like sewage through the minds of most in ‘New India’, and people who can actually speak up about it choose to sit in their ivory towers – their Mannats and Jannats – unbothered.
I prefer to stay out of these things
Juxtapose this with the West. Hollywood speaks up because they realise that the sum total of all individuals is the society we live in. No one can escape the malady of hate once it enmeshes with the fabric of society. Be it #MeToo or Black Lives Matter or even Islamophobia, Hollywood has come forward and addressed it unabashedly.
Yes, theirs may be a different society now, but they’ve also once been where we are – fresh at the precipice of hate. There was a time when America went into a civil war because some people believed in slavery and others didn’t, and those who didn’t, fought against it. You don’t become a just society because of the blessings of God. You work for it.
When you don’t talk about injustice, when you don’t acknowledge the targeted hate that minorities face in India, you disassociate yourself from the very society that made you who you are. That’s not just apathetic, that’s selfish.
Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan should know that a simple question like “where is this anger stemming from in young India” can make the millions of people who follow them to stop and introspect. Their voice is powerful. It can still make a difference. You don’t have to be overtly political in your message. But know that your silence is deeply political.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.