A few months ago, Shahrukh Khan- one of India’s top movie stars, said in an interview that intolerance was increasing. The media ingenuously quoted part of what he said and then proceeded to crucify him- vicious suggestions were made as to where he could take himself.
Sometime later, Aamir Khan among other things he said in wide ranging interview shared with the journalist a conversation he had with his, around tolerance, safety and raising children.
The explosive reaction to this went beyond all previous hyper reactions that we had seen! There were calls for Aamir and his wife to move to Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi! Others wanted him to renounce his Indian citizenship, yet others called for a boycott of his movies, general calls for his lynching and threatening the safety of his family……..All of this spoke volumes about the levels of tolerance these folks for opinions contrary to theirs.
While the reactions from vote-bank politicians and some of the easily influenced masses in India was expected- what surprised, saddened and disheartened me the most was the vitriolic response from some educated, well travelled, professionals, many who were themselves overseas.
Many were righteous in their anger, genuinely feeling that Aamir Khan should feel grateful that he has succeeded in a Hindu majority country. The people have made him a mega star. The other point many made is that as a Muslim, he is much safer in India, than in perhaps Iran or Pakistan or Syria. Some felt he could not have expressed such a view anywhere else and got away with it, India was too tolerant and had to show “them” that it will be quiet in the face of such sacrilege.
Bemused at this vitriolic outpouring, esp on social media, I was drawn to exploring some of the sentiments deeper.
Some of the key things that came up were the ideas of tolerance in a modern Indian context.
That India is very welcoming is undisputed- with a 5000 year history, we have welcomed all into our fold. Different cultures, different religions and different ethnic groups live- quite peacefully in India.
Why then are people (not just a couple of Bollywood types) suddenly saying that India is intolerant? In fact, what is intolerance- in my mind, Intolerance is our inability to accept differences in others, allow people to go about their cultural and social practices without trying to impose a different, maybe mainstream view and most importantly never letting a person feel he is different or lesser than the majority.
But as a citizen of India, would I be happy with just being “tolerated”? Would I be okay if others in the country, were “all right” with my presence alone?
I think not- I would want to be accepted and taken as one of their own, allowed to be part of the larger social fabric. I would want to feel welcome in a neighbour’s house, I would want others to not view me and my loved ones as something to tolerate- but to embrace as part of a larger community.
And this brings me to Acceptance.
While we have an extremely welcoming nature and infact can sometimes go overboard with our hospitality – I don’t believe many are true acceptance of everyone as an equal has yet become the norm. And this is so entrenched that no one even realises it is happening. The rental advertisements asking for a “vegetarian” tenant- knowing it excludes people from some castes and religions.
The “guest cups and plates” reserved for people from a different caste. And these are things that happen in middle class and high caste families, move to the teeming lower socioeconomic classes it is even more insidious. The now routine news reports of incidents that happen are almost accepted and expected.
Accepting a woman as an equal- not someone who needs to come to heel. Equal opportunities for both genders, equal rights for every citizen.
Across the country many are trying to find acceptance outside their home states- Most South Indians would have been called a madarasi, had fun made of our eating style or our language crudely imitated, north indians are routinely ridiculed in the southern states.
Young students from the north east are bullied, heckled and threatened in our college campuses and cities.
I was pained to hear that a good friend who has lived in the south for many years now, still is excluded by her south indian neighbours. The movie 2 States reflected some of the prejudices we hold.
And of course safety, women are not safe in many larger cities, everyone is unsafe in some parts of the country and even the police is not safe in some areas!
To me all of these put together become a very real worrying thing for everyone parent, every citizen – and if a wife and a mother articulated this to her husband and he shared it in context – what is wrong? Should it not galvanise all of us to demand that something be done?
For those claiming he needs to keep quiet because he is shaming the country is rubbish, the corruption & lawlessness shame us more.
For those who say he should be grateful to the country for his fame, wealth and superstar status- he may well be grateful, but he still has a right to his opinion. And had he not worked hard and been talented, he would not have become a star or made money.
And more importantly, most common people expect our community leaders to talk about things that matter- if a Muslim superstar can be vilified for saying something the majority don’t like, how is an ordinary, everyday muslim person ever supposed to open their mouths??
Living overseas, in a country where I am in the minority, I am always grateful that I am free to express an opinion and reasonably sure that even if my view is contrary or different, no one is going to ask me to go “home”…..and I have only been here for 18 years.
Is it too much to expect that a person who is 10th Generation Indian, coming from a family that has served the country in many capacities, has previously spoken about so many difficult issues be afforded the same rights in India?
Should we not be more accepting? More tolerant?