The fire set on stage by Aamir Khan’s comments on intolerance, religion and terrorism at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards is yet to be doused. Responses on social media are still rolling in. Snapdeal, which Khan endorses, continues to be targeted even as it tries to mitigate the damage with its cautious press release.
Like it has almost always been with public discourse on anything to do with religion and violence, and more recently the ‘intolerance debate’, the controversy following Aamir’s comments is marked by ignorance to what he really and fully said, blind hatred and ideological hypocrisy, actively encouraged by media sensationalism.
So what did Aamir Khan really say? Did we listen to him fully before calling him anti-national and accusing him of destroying India’s image?
Here is the full video of Khan in conversation with Indian Express’s Ananth Goenka at the event.
First, we must pay heed to what Jaitley had said before Khan goes on to make the controversial remark, on what what the ‘role of the celebrity’ is. Jaitley said, “I am quite OK with prominent people and achievers taking positions on issues”, and that “today in a world where forums for an individual to react are too many... I think if it is a seriously thought out view, as against a maverick view, I think it does good to a society.”
One is tempted to ask Aamir-baiters to listen to Jaitley again and give Aamir a break – but the response would be “Aamir did not make a seriously thought-out view”.
How many of the thousands of people outraging against Aamir, abusing him, asking him to take his statement back and targeting Snapdeal and Godrej for his statements have actually heard his statements in entirety?
Here is a near-perfect transcript of what he said.
When he was asked about the season of award-wapsi that we have weathered, he said “it is important for creative people to voice what they feel” and that returning awards is a way of protest and he would endorse any protest which is not violent.
Then he says,
“We read in the media what is happening, I have also been alarmed by a number of incidents. It is very important to have a sense of security. As a society and as Indians if we need a sense of security, we need a sense of justice. If a wrong step is taken by someone, then justice should be done. That gives a sense of security to the common man.”
He also says,
“When people take the law into their hand, we look upon elected representatives to take a stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute such cases. When we see that happening, there is a sense of security. When we don’t see that happening, there is a sense of insecurity. It does not matter who the ruling party is. It has happened across ages. It doesn’t matter who is in power. In television debates we see when one political party which is ruling, in this case the BJP is accused of various things and they ask, but what about 1984? But that doesn’t make right what is happening now. What happened on 1984 is horrendous, but so is what has happened over the ages. When an innocent person is killed, even if it is one person, it is very unfortunate. These are moments we look to our leaders to take strong steps, make statements which are reassuring to us as citizens of the country.”
He pauses and as the conversation tends to move on, he interrupts Ananth to complete the point.
“I also feel there is a sense of insecurity, a sense of fear...”
Ananth Goenka: “ ..more than there was..”
“...earlier? Ya I think in the last may be 6 months, 8 months, there has been a sense of despondency I would say. When I sit at home and speak to Kiran, Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India, first time Kiran says should we move out of India. Now that’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child, she fears for what the atmosphere for her child may be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet. There is growing despondency. One part of is alarm, there is alarm. The other part is depressed, you feel low, you feel – ‘why is this happening?’ That sense exist in me.”
He also later states that moderate Muslims are majority among the Muslims, and some organizations in India have spoken against ISIS and other organizations.
He also says that when he speaks and if he has to represent others, he would choose to speak for everyone, not just Muslims.
I would like to draw attention to certain things here.
First, he did not say that he or his family wants to leave the country – only that the situation, after reading the morning papers, is such that once his wife asked him if they should leave the country. He does say he is alarmed by certain events and that his wife has her fears.
Second, he says that in the past 6-8 months, there is a sense of despondency and disquiet – he doesn’t say that “intolerance is rising in the past few months” as many believe he did, perhaps based on skewed headlines.
Third, he makes it clear that one cannot blame one political party alone, as such things have happened through the ages. “It does not matter who is in power,” he says, stating that 1984 riots were horrendous but cannot be used an excuse for other events.
Fourth, he says that no act of violence is linked to any religion, be it Islam or Hinduism. When Goenka asks him about Paris attacks and how everyone easily links terror with religion,
“For me acts of terror are not linked to any religion. It is a person who is doing an act of terror, I don’t think he is following Islam. Or for that matter somebody who is a Hindu who is doing something which is very violent and an act of terror is not following Hinduism, I dont think any religion teaches the killing of innocents. So when you seen an act, an act of terror which is violent, instead of calling that person a Hindu terrorist, or an Islamic terrorist, we should just call that person a terrorist and remove the religion tag from it. That’s the first mistake we make when we label them Islamic terrorist or Hindu terrorist.”
An unbiased spectator cannot have any complaint with what he said, and what he said certainly does not translate to being anti-national or tarnishing the image of the country. Does asking for a national leader to make a mere statement reassuring the people of the country on the back of certain statements amount to being anti-national? Is that not a right that every Indian has? Can he not have an opinion that he or his wife feel insecure after reading newspapers? Even if we think he is wrong in doing so, what warrants the vile attack on him and brands related to him for having an opinion when asked a question?
And should we not be appreciating him for making the point that no particular political party is to blame, and that no religion – Islam or Hinduism – can be linked to terrorism?
He made a statement airing his fears, alarm and despondency – but he qualified it with both political and religious neutrality. His views, like Jaitley said, were seriously thought out, just not the kind every Hindu right-wing would wholeheartedly agree with. If we believe in democracy, it must be a matter of pride for us.
And when one looks at the reaction to AR Rahman’s statement on intolerance, it is hard not to wonder if the attack on Aamir is couched in religious bigotry, not nationalism or concern for the image of India.
Speaking to the media at IFFI in Goa, a reluctant AR Rahman did not just say that he agrees with Aamir’s remark, but also said that he thought that the award-wapsi protests were ‘poetic’. "Everything should be done classily. I feel what people are doing is very poetic. We should set an example for the world because we come from the land of Mahatma Gandhi,” he is quoted to have said, wholeheartedly endorsing those who were questioning the Modi government for rising intolerance. But he also said that he had gone through a similar situation a few months back, and he was referring to the fatwa issued to him by the Muslim organization Raza Academy for his movie on Prophet Muhammad.
Both Aamir and Rahman were asked questions on intolerance – and they responded indicating that it indeed exists. Both referred to the past few months. Both also endorsed award-wapsi. But one of them was seemingly talking about Hindu-extremism, the other referring to Raza Academy.
Do we see Rahman being targeted with the same anger and aggressiveness as that of Aamir? Are people targeting Airtel for having an ‘anti-national’ brand ambassador?
Earlier, we had written about the liberal hypocrisy in framing the debate on intolerance as a political campaign against a particular political party. Aamir Khan was better than that, and India’s right-wing would be better off not alienating people who are mindful of their voice. One of the arguments being made is that AR Rahman had a reason to complain since a fatwa was issued against him, Aamir had no such reason. Well, we just gave him one.