Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan on Tuesday spoke out strongly about an issue which has led to a diplomatic war of words between politicians in his country and in fellow Asian country and neighbour, Pakistan.
The controversy began after Khan wrote a piece called ‘Being a Khan’ for Indian weekly Outlook. In it, he spoke about being targeted as a Muslim actor. “Stereotyping and contextualising is the way of the world we live; a world in which definition has become central to security,” he wrote. “We create little image boxes of our own. One such box has begun to draw its lid tighter and tighter at present. It is the box that contains an image of my religion in millions of minds.”
On reading his piece, head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political arm of a terrorist Islamist organisation in Pakistan, who is also wanted in India for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed took advantage of the situation, and was quoted as saying Khan should move to Pakistan if he did not feel safe in India. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik also chimed in, saying India should provide security to Khan.
In Indian which is constitutionally a secular republic, Hinduism is the majority religion, with 80.5% of the country’s population. 13.4% practice Islam, 2.3%, Christianity, 1.9% Sikhism, 0.8% Buddhism, and 0.4% Jainism. Despite the seemingly small percentage, the Muslim population of India is the third largest in the world. This would make anyone doubt if Khan really felt unsafe in India, a country that boasts of some of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture like the Taj Mahal and the Qutb Minar.
Indian politicians quickly reacted to Hafiz Saeed and Pakistani Minister Rehman Malik’s comments, with home secretary R K Singh telling Rehman to look after his own citizens. Representatives of political parties, too, reproached Pakistan to not meddle in India’s internal matter.
Speaking on Tuesday when he made an appearance to launch the Times of India Film Awards (Toifa), Khan read out his statement as he anticipated questions from reporters.
“I would like to tell all those who are offering me unsolicited advice that we in India are extremely safe and happy,” he said at a press conference in Mumbai. “We have an amazing democratic, free and secular way of life. In the environs that we live here in my country India, we have no safety issues regarding life or material. As a matter of fact it is irksome for me to clarify this non-existent issue.”
“I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation rather than my own country—this even though I am an Indian whose father fought for the freedom of India.”
In a show of support, actress Priyanka Chopra, who appeared in the Don’s film franchise with Khan, came to his defence on Tuesday.
“People often use celebrities to advance their propagandas,” she said at a press conference to unveil the video of her first single ‘In My City’.
“The press should not get trapped in all this and must report the truth.”
Khan, who is married to a Hindu, also urged everyone to read his article before drawing conclusions, and said that he has had no concerns about his safety.
“Nowhere does the article state or imply directly or indirectly that I feel unsafe, troubled or disturbed in India,” he said, adding that he thought it was ironic his article was actually meant to “reiterate that on some occasions my being an Indian Muslim film star is misused by bigots and narrow-minded people who have misplaced religious ideologies for small gains.
“I gave my son and daughter names that could pass for generic ones: Aryan and Suhana,” he said. “Sometimes they ask me what religion they belong to and, like a good Hindi movie hero, I roll my eyes up to the sky and declare philosophically, “You are an Indian first and your religion is humanity”.
“Let’s not be misled by tools which use religion as an anchor for unrest and a policy of divide and rule.” [GN]