The placards first showed up on Twitter on April 13, two days after the police submitted the chargesheet in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, Jammu. Horrified at the brutality meted out to her, Bollywood actors Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Kalki Koechlin, Huma Qureshi, Tilottoma Shome, Aahana Kumra, Radhika Apte, Shruti Seth and Gul Panag, and filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava posted pictures of themselves holding up posters with the message: “I am Hindustan. I am ashamed.
#Justiceforourchild. 8 years old. Gangraped. Murdered. In ‘Devi’-sthaan temple. #Kathua.”
Reaction from detractors was swift. One tweet asked “Hindus” to not watch films by certain actors, while others dismissed their initiative as a publicity stunt. “There are very few women who raise their voice in this country — whether it is in the government, or film, or theatre community — and they are heavily trolled for it. It’s sad that women are trolling us, and god forbid something happens to them, and nobody stands by them then,” says Kumra, who featured in the film Lipstick Under My Burkha, which found itself in trouble ahead of its release last year.
Bollywood is not known for being particularly political. In the light of recent events where various outfits have taken umbrage at certain projects, the industry’s first instinct is often to be placatory, and manage the financial damages such events can cause them. Unlike its American counterpart which is still reeling from the impact of the #MeToo movement that took off last October, when several actors accused Harvey Weinstein of years of sexual misconduct, Bollywood continues to largely operate in a culture of silence.
“Bollywood is a soft target for haters and for the kind of media that wants to sensationalise things. You lose if you do, and you lose if you don’t. When one does choose to speak out, they still get insulted and trolled. So I understand why big stars don’t speak out; there are repercussions to being political in Bollywood. That says something very sad about our society and country. Remember what happened with Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, when they commented on the rise of intolerance in our society a few years ago? I don’t blame Bollywood for not speaking up that much because when you make it safe to be silent, a lot of people will choose to remain silent,” says Bhasker.
But this particular crime in Kathua has hit a nerve in the industry. On April 12, Akshay Kumar, Bollywood’s posterboy for nationalism, tweeted The Indian Express story on the chargesheet and wrote, “Yet again, we’ve failed as a society. Can’t think straight as more chilling details… emerge…her innocent face refuses to leave me. Justice must be served, hard and fast!”
Farhan Akhtar, who launched “MARD: Men Against Rape and Discrimination”, a social media campaign in 2013, tweeted: “Imagine what goes through the mind of an 8-yr-old as she is drugged, held captive, gang raped over days and then murdered. If you don’t feel her terror, you are not human.”
At the April 15 protests on Carter Road, Bandra, actors Rajkummar Rao, Patralekhaa, Twinkle Khanna, Mini Mathur and Aditi Rao Hydari, and filmmakers Kiran Rao, Shrivastava, Nikkhil Advani joined the gathering, and spoke passionately about the need for justice.