Breaking his silence on the raging debate over acts of intolerance, actor Aamir Khan on Monday expressed “alarm” and despondency over the rise in such cases “in the last six to eight months”.
In conversation with Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director & Head — New Media, The Indian Express, at the eighth edition of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, Khan said a sense of “insecurity” and “fear” had seeped deep within society, even in his family.
“(Wife) Kiran 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 everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet,” he said.
Asked for his view on the trend of writers, artists, historians and scientists returning their awards, Khan said this was one way of getting their point across. “For creative people, to voice what they feel is important. A number of creative people — historians and scientists — have increasingly had a certain feeling that they feel they need to express. One of the ways of expressing their dissatisfaction or disappointment is to return awards.”
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He said he would endorse any protest that is non-violent. “As long as you don’t resort to violence, all individuals have a right to protest and they can protest in any manner they feel is right. This is certainly a way to protest for creative people.”
The protests, he noted, were prompted by a growing atmosphere of intolerance around the creative community and the growing sense of insecurity and disappointment over it.
“As an individual, as a citizen, certainly I have also been alarmed, I can’t deny it, by a number of incidents,” he said, “For us, as Indians, to feel a sense of security, two-three things are important. The sense of justice gives a lot of security to the common man. The second thing, that is important, are the people who are the elected representatives, at the state level or the level of the Centre… when people take law in their own hands, we look upon these representatives to take a strong stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute such cases. It doesn’t matter who the ruling party is.”
“On television debates, I see where one political party, in this case, the BJP which is ruling right now, is accused of various things. They said, ‘But what happened in 1984?’. But that doesn’t make right what’s happening now. What happened in ‘84 was disastrous and horrendous. At other times also, through ages, whenever there is a violent act, when an innocent person is killed, be it one or a large number, that’s very unfortunate. And these unfortunate moments are the ones when we look towards our leaders to take a strong step. Make statements that are reassuring to the citizens,” he said.
On the issue of censorship, Khan said though he had had no personal experience with the censors, he was alarmed by their stance. “It (the board) is reacting to things that we, as free people, as adults, should make our own choices on. Essentially the certification board is supposed to mention the age for which the film is suitable. There is no censorship required after the certification. As I understand it now, it has been aggressive in its approach and it is worrying.”
Khan opened up on another issue occupying the news feed, answering queries related to terror. “Acts of terror are not connected to any religion. If he is a Muslim and he engaging in acts of terror, I don’t think he is following Islam. Or for that matter, even a Hindu who is engaging in an act of violence, is not following Hinduism. No religion teaches killing of innocents. When you see an act of terror or violence, instead of calling him a Christian or a Hindu or an Islamic terrorist, you should just call him terrorist and remove the religion tag from it. That’s the first mistake when we label them. It’s just a terrorist who doesn’t have a religion,” he said.
He spoke of growing discomfort within the majority of moderate Muslims over such incidents. “If I’m not mistaken, a number of Muslim organisations have begun to speak openly against the ISIS and similar terror organisations, at least in India,” he said. Voicing his opinion as a Muslim, he said, makes him uncomfortable. “Firstly, why should I be representing anyone? Secondly, I have to represent anyone, why not everyone? Why Muslims? My birth may be in a Muslim household, but I speak for everyone,” he said.
The conversation also led to an interaction with the audience. While Lt Gen Arun Kumar Sahni, GOC-in-C South Western Command, expressed his desire to see more films that show the relationship between India and its neighbours in a positive light, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor spoke about how such an approach can compel people to think about their own deep-seated prejudices and bigotry in their own country.
The Indian Express columnist Tavleen Singh asked Khan about his view on the Paris attackers invoking Islam to justify their act. “A person who is holding a Quran and killing people may feel he is doing it in the name of Islam, but as a Muslim, I don’t feel he is doing an Islamic act. He may claim to be a Muslim but we should not recognise him as that. My problem is not just with the ISIS, the fear is with that thinking. Today there is ISIS, tomorrow it would be someone else. This extreme thinking is what I worry about,” he said.