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Aamir Khan’s selective amnesia on intolerance

Author: Anish Gupta & Aaleya Giri
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 5, 2015
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/aamir-khans-selective-amnesia-on-intolerance.html

The Botad gangrape survivor, who delivered a baby boy in July after she was denied the right to abort by the Gujarat High Court, was brutally thrashed by the wives of two accused for not wearing Islamic attire. They have apparently threatened the survivor to act as per Islamic norms as she had given birth to a child of one of their men. But no one is bothered to talk about it or condemn it

 The recent interview of Aamir Khan at Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards has sparked a row. Aamir’s comment signifies that his wife is perturbed because of the allegedly growing intolerance and hence wants to move out of India to have a secured life. She is perhaps not perplexed for the things happening all over the world! What bothers her are the last few incidents that have created turmoil in India. Of course violence in any form creates sense of insecurity and shakes our faith in harmony and peace. Kiran being a citizen of the country and a mother has every right to feel concerned. But is violence and intolerance religion specific? Is there any country where anyone really feels secure? Will leaving India solve all problems?

 Reacting to Tavleen Singh’s question on ISIS killing in Paris, Aamir says, “…these are not Islamic acts. A person holding a Quran and killing people may feel he is doing it in the name of Islam, but as a Muslim, I don’t feel he is doing an Islamic act. I’m very clear that a person who is killing innocents is not a Muslim.” If the ISIS or the extremist causing terror all over the world doesn’t represent all the moderate Muslims, then how can a few people responsible for the Dadri incident represent Hinduism or Hindu as a whole? A Muslim is being killed in a remote village in UP by some ignorant Hindus. Though the investigations are on and the real motive is not yet affirmed, nevertheless the incident is really unfortunate and condemnable. But what about those thousands of progressive Hindus who came out to show their solidarity with the victim, organising beef festivals in protest? Aamir and Kiran, will you still say India is intolerant?

 Sudhir Chaudhary, business head and editor of Zee News, while questioning the actor mentions two incidents which reflect insensitivity — Dadri and the recent incident in J&K where Colonel Santosh Mahadik was martyred by a terrorist. Questioning the double standards of our society, Chaudhury says that while most politicians came to Dadri, none but the Defence Minister came to Colonel Mahadik’s house in Satara. Aamir agrees that a lot of us have double standards. He further says, “Humans are complex creatures. I wish we were like machines and calibrated into reacting in the appropriate way each time.” But unfortunately we, having different ideologies and motives, become selective while voicing our protests.

 Another insensitive incident, about Gujarat’s Botad gangrape survivor, made the headlines on November 26, 2015. The Botad gangrape survivor, who delivered a baby boy in July after she was denied the right to abort by the Gujarat High Court, was brutally thrashed by the wives of two accused who reside in the same village for not wearing Muslim attire. They have apparently threatened the survivor to act as per Islamic norms as she had given birth to a child of one of their men. But no one is bothered to think about it or condemn it.

 When asked if he should have a stronger voice when it comes to representing the moderate Muslims, Aamir says, “When you say if I should represent the modern Muslim, I feel very uncomfortable. First of all, why should I be representing anyone? Secondly, if I have to represent anyone, why not everyone? Why just Muslims?” The statement itself is contradictory. When expressing his anguish, his fears, and his restlessness, he is identifying himself with the minority community but while commenting on the growing intolerance all over the world in the name of Allah he refuses to do so.

 Mr Khan, you are an actor, you are above religion. We admire you as a refined creative person. We value your comments as an intellectual. You should have a sense of responsibility. You cannot represent your nation, just because of a few unpleasant incidents in a negative light. Where is that note of hope that ACP Rathore had instilled in us?

 Recently a photo of a French security personnel staring at a Muslim man with hatred made the front page of most of the newspapers. The photo speaks a lot. What perceptions the European nation has about the Muslims after 9/11 is not unknown. On November 24, 2015, the presidential frontrunner of Republican Party in the USA, Donald Trump, is reported to have said in his debates to close down some of the mosques in the USA. Reporters claim that he has talked about monitoring American Muslim population by creating a database and has suggested the requirement for the Muslim community to register themselves and carry IDs. He is also alleged to claim that when terrorists brought down World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, thousands of people in New Jersey cheered the destruction. He has claimed that he himself has observed it. Mr Khan, do you really see such hatred in Indian society after each and every bomb blast and terror attack in India?

 Of course, it’s a personal choice whether to reside in India or settle abroad. But given the situation of the USA or any other developed countries, would Aamir and his wife, who have a surname of Khan, be able to live with the sense of security and dignity? It was in the USA where Shah Rukh Khan was frisked and humiliated by the airport authorities. He was upset as he was denied special treatment there. Kamal Hasan too was detained in Toronto airport for having a surname which sounds like a Muslim. One of the European countries has banned Islam in their territory. Mr. Khan where do you think is the right place to live? As a famous Urdu shayar says,

“Ab to ghabara ke ye kahte hain ki mar jaayenge

Mar ke bhi chain naa paaya to kidhar jaayenge”

 (They say they will prefer death to escape difficulties, but where will they  go if they don’t find peace even after death)

 Would you and your family be able to enjoy the stardom that you all enjoy here in India?

 Another issue that was raised in the interview is related to Censor Board. Answering Bharat Agrawal’s question on Censor Board, Aamir comments, “What I have heard being reported is that it is behaving in an alarming way. Maybe alarming is too sharp a word. It is reacting to things that we as free people, as adults, could make our own choices on… As I understand it now, it has been aggressive in its approach in the last six-eight months and it is worrying.”

 No doubt what Aamir says is right. The certification board is supposed to certify the age for which a film is suitable and it is up to the adult to decide whether they want to see the film or not. But is the allegation that the Censor Board has become aggressive in its approach in the last six-eight months reasonable? Hasn’t the Censor Board, which has never been apolitical, always exercised its authority to ban anything controversial?

 Talking about the recent controversial movies, we recall how Pithavinum Putranum Parishudhathmavinum (2012)  a Malyalam movie which tells the story of five people, Sister Elsitta who strictly obeys church, Sister Jeseentha who finds uncomfortable in nunnery corridors and its atmosphere and she revolts, Sister Aneeta who burns herself as her beauty draws many admirers, a senior Father who lives with a crooked mind, a junior Father who lives with democratic ideas in mind — was denied clearance on the basis of a complaint that the film portrays existential issues of nuns in a wrong manner.

 In another instance, the director of the movie Entertainment (2013) was asked to change the name of a comic character played by Johny Lever from “Abdullah” to “Habibullah”, on the ground of the sacredness of the word “Abdullah”.

 When Vishwaroopam, an Indian spy thriller, was released in 2013, Muslim civic organisations in Tamil Nadu demanded ban on the film and claimed that the film was defamatory to Islamic ethos and would hurt Muslim sentiments. Eventually the filmmaker had to mute down some scenes.

 Interestingly in 2014, two controversial movies were released, Messenger of God (MSG) and PK. The Censor Board found the portrayal of Dera chief in MSG as god objectionable. Besides the board decided not to give it clearance citing threat to law and order situation in parts of Punjab and Haryana.

 However, PK, which makes fun of Hindu gods and goddesses and Hindu practices, was released without any cut. Interestingly Aamir, breaking all his past records, earned `300 crore from this movie. If India, whose 80 per cent population comprises Hindus, isn’t tolerant, would this have been possible?

 To quote Taslima Nasreen’s alleged comment, “Aamir Khan you earned `300 crore by mocking Hindu gods in PK, if you would have done this in Pakistan, Bangladesh or on Muslims’ religion, you would have been hanged, and still you say India is intolerant!”

 Celebrities often feel obliged to construct an image for themselves which works as a reference point, something with which the mass can identify or relate to. It seems that Aamir understands this policy of public relations well. When Narmada Bachao Andolan became immensely popular, Aamir stood with Medha Patkar to show his support. During the Congress rule, he chose to criticise the Gujarat model and started an online petition against it. But later on when the Jan Lok Pal Bill movement led by Anna against the Congress Government gained huge popularity among the common man, he came and showed his solidarity with Anna. In 2014, when the BJP won the election and Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country, he joined hand with him in Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan. Now he has voiced his opinion about the “growing intolerance” incidentally or coincidently after the Bihar election. Aamir grabs the popular sentiment of the country, thus carefully constructing his image.

 True, some issues  violence, intolerance, corruption and exploitation of women and the voiceless poor  are beyond politics and need to be addressed by all concerned citizens. Prominent faces give momentum to such movements.

 Interestingly while Aamir has shown his concern and voiced his opinion on many major social issues, he has maintained silence over other issues.

 Recently a prominent Sunni Muslim leader Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musliyar while addressing a Sunni students’ camp in Kozhikode said gender equality was “against Islam”. He added, “The world is controlled by men. Women have strength in other areas … Her duty is to rear children and feed the husband.’’

 Isn’t it intolerance towards women? Don’t these poor Muslim women represent our country? Why there isn’t any intellectual debate on the rights of the Indian Muslim women? Why Aamir is silent?

 Of course everyone has a right to choose when and what to speak. So does Aamir. But his preferences give us space to question his motives which appear to be calculative rather than impulsive.

 Aamir says the success of PK shows India is progressing. While he has satirised Hindu practices of going to pilgrimage, keeping fast, and idol worshiping, he himself keeps fast during ramzan and took his mother to Haj. Isn’t it hypocrisy?

 Aamir has exercised his freedom of speech in expressing his concern and fears. Following his statement, there has been a flood of comments, both positive and negative. As Aamir says as long as our protests are non-violent, there is no harm in expressing it, then why these non-violent individual comments irk him now? The newspapers are making headlines, “Aamir is attacked for his statement.” Is he really attacked? Why the media wants everyone to endorse Aamir’s viewpoint without any dissent?

 Curiously when Raveena Tandon, the national award winning actress, tweeted about the hypocrisy of award returnee and criticised the Ministers for making unnecessary comments on the Dadri incident, she was hurled with abuses. Barkha Dutt and Rana Ayyub, the famous journalists, used offensive language against the actress on the social media. However it was not highlighted in any newspaper.

 Even Jamia Millia Islamia’s decision to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its annual convocation is being protested by a handful alumni. Vikram Sampath, an author, musician, and winner of Sahitya Akademi’s “Yuva Puraskar”, was forced to step down as the organiser of the Bangalore Literature Festival because he had earlier denied subscribing to the “Award Wapsi” campaign. Many writers have threatened to boycott the event given his presence.

 Are these models of tolerance? Is it our differences or our indifference to the growing differences that make India vulnerable to violence and intolerance?

 India needs to wake up to this sort of hypocrisy. We cannot have double standards. We need to spread hope to develop harmony in diversity. That’s the only way to make India progressive, inclusive and tolerant. While Aamir’s wife is worried about her son’s safety and desires to leave the country, martyred Col Mahadik’s wife wishes to send her kids to Army. The choice is ours.

(Anish Gupta and Aaleya Giri teach Economics and English respectively at Delhi University. They can be reached at pioneer.article@gmail.com. Views expressed here are personal)
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