Shame Aamir Shame
And now Mr Khan has become the latest in a long list of celebrities to join the intolerance debate. Expressing "alarm" over the rise in acts of supposed intolerance "in the last six to eight months" Khan said a sense of "insecurity" and "fear" had seeped deep within society, even in his family. "Kiran [wife] and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That's a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet," he said.
I am sure these feelings are heartfelt but coming from an actor who is an icon for millions in the country, these are also irresponsible. One can give all the statistics at one's command that actually the incidents of communal violence this year are lower than some years in the past; one can try to make an argument that law and order is a state government's responsibility; one can make a case about the sheer hypocrisy of those protesting; one can point out that another round of this intolerance debate had happened last year in the context of some attacks on churches which later turned out to be local issues; but all this doesn't matter. The debate has moved beyond a point where one side can persuade the other with a reasoned argument.
What was most remarkable about Mr Khan's argument was that he was not content to suggest that India might be getting intolerant as another of his colleague from the film industry suggested some time back. He went a step further to suggest that moving out of India has been considered by his family. Where is it that his wife would like him to go? To the US where potential presidential candidates are talking of databases to track Muslims in the United States? To the UK where hate crimes against Muslims have soared by almost 275 percent since the Paris attacks? To Sweden where riots against immigrants have now become routine? Or even to Switzerland where as far back as 2009 voters banned the construction of minarets on mosques, while Ticino, a Swiss canton near Italy, voted in 2013 to ban burqas?
I write this not to denigrate the West. After all, I live in the UK and the Western societies are by and large tolerant places to live. But they have their own tensions. Much like them, India is also a work in progress. We are a young nation and we too have our trials and tribulations but we remain a tolerant nation. India is secular not because Indira Gandhi surreptitiously put it in the Indian Constitution but because the very ethos of India remains secular. Of course, there are nut cases but they have always been on the fringes in this country and they will always be. Compare this to the US, the great City on the Hill, where Donald Trump might just be the nominee of the Republican Party for the White House.
Mr Khan and his other illustrious colleagues can make a reasonable case that the government perhaps needs to do more. But by indulging in unnecessary hyperbole, they are not only destroying their own credibility but harming the cause of tolerance on whose behalf they claim to speak. As a vibrant liberal democracy, India needs to confront its demons, communal disharmony being one of them. But that debate can only be productive, if those who most want this debate remove their ideological blinkers and recognise that this is a product not of "last six to eight months" but of last six decades when Indian polity blatantly used religion for political mobilisation. Laying the blame at the Modi government's doorsteps will neither help the cause of tolerance nor will it advance the debate forward. more