The Onus of Speaking Up Against Hate Crimes isn’t Only on the Khans

I recently read an article where the author had lambasted the three reigning Khans of Bollywood – Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir – for not speaking out against the atrocities being meted out to Muslims under the current Modi regime.

While it’s absolutely true that Muslims in a position of power should use their privilege to speak up, it’s unfair to put that burden on Muslim actors alone.

Consequences of speaking up

It is essential to point out that the three Khans have actually spoken up on various occasions in the past. In fact, Aamir Khan was the first to voice his concerns over rising intolerance in the country in 2015. The kind of backlash he faced for his statement was swift and vituperative, to say the least.

Then, in 2015 again, Salman Khan had tweeted against the hanging of Yakub Memon and said, in a somewhat cryptic tweet, how it was unfair to punish him for what his brother had done. For this, he faced incessant abuse and trolling – to the extent that even Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackery demanded an explanation from the actor.

Salman’s father quickly went into damage control mode and called his son ignorant and the tweets “meaningless” and “wrong”.

Shahrukh Khan, on the other hand, has spoken out in a number of interviews for which he has been criticised, and called “anti-national” and even a Pakistani sympathiser by a section of the right-wing.

A number of other prominent Muslim figures in the film fraternity, like Javed Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah, routinely speak up against these atrocities on a regular basis only to be barraged with abusive trolling and met with mudslinging by verified BJP Twitter handles.

False equivalence 

The writer has given the example of Mohammed Salah – whose presence in Liverpool has significantly brought down Islamophobia in Merseyside county where the club is located. The comparison is misplaced to begin with as Salah is a practicing Muslim who wears his identity on his sleeve and belongs to a profession where he does not have to project or play an alternate image.

In contrast, the three Khans belong to the film fraternity where audiences perceive actors on the basis of the characters they play on screen. In addition to that, the three Khans have never really projected themselves as practicing Muslims which, it can be argued, makes them unrepresentative of the Muslim population.

If they suddenly speak up in favour of the Muslim community after all these years, the majority will consider it a betrayal. This would lead to negative consequences.

We live in a country where Shahrukh playing the character of a patriotic secular Indian – Kabir Khan – in Chak De is lauded. But when he plays Rizwan Khan in My Name Is Khan, who has a staunch Muslim identity and is trying to dispel Islamophobia, he is ridiculed and mocked.

When people can’t digest him embracing his Muslim identity in reel life, how do we expect them to do it in real life?

What about the Bachchan, Kumars and Kapoors?

India is a Hindu majority country and no matter how vocal the Muslim community becomes, in today’s hate-ridden environment, many among the people who are still holding onto the shreds of the secular fabric of the country are Hindu liberals. So, if at one spectrum we have the Payal Rohtagis, Koena Mitras and Anupam Khers, on the other, we also have the Swara Bhaskars, Pooja Bhatts and Anurag Kashyaps.

Why should the Khans solely be held responsible when other, equally prominent actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar or even female actors like Deepika Padukone have never spoken up or condemned hate crimes in the country?

Wouldn’t it make more sense if an actor like Akshay Kumar, who has emerged as the nationalist hero of this decade, issues a statement on these atrocities? If a stalwart like Amitabh Bachchan, whose legendary persona was used to successfully lead many important drives in the country like the Polio and TB campaign, makes a strong statement there might be a better chance that people will listen.

It’s the silence of these stars which is disconcerting.

In the ‘new India’ of today, where even the ruling government is pivoting on majoritarian sentiments, expecting actors belonging to a community which is already targeted is not only unfair but illogical.

Who can forget the legendary speech of Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes in 2017, where she took on Trump’s policies? In an interview in 2017, when Shahrukh was asked by a reporter why we don’t have any Meryl Streep’s in India, Shahrukh replied, “You have got to speak to people who understand what you are saying.”

Even if the three Khans decide to speak up, is anyone truly listening to what they’re going to say?

I think we all know the answer.

Nazma Pavrveen describes herself as an unapologetic Indian Muslim who likes to write on sociopolitical issues. Her Twitter handle is @nazmaaman

All views expressed are personal and belong to the author.