NEW DELHI -- Bollywood actor Aamir Khan's remarks on intolerance have triggered polarising sentiments, with some people accusing him of defaming the country as well as hurting sentiments of his adoring fans, and others saying that he has the freedom to speak his mind without provoking a backlash.
Speaking at a journalism awards ceremony on Monday, Khan, a Muslim married to a Hindu, talked about how his wife, Kiran Rao, a film producer, feared living in India. Several Bharatiya Janata Party ministers including Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Suresh Prabhu and Najma Heptullah were present at the function.
"When I chat with Kiran at home, she says 'Should we move out of India?' That's a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day." - Aamir Khan
Khan's remark coupled with Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi tweeting his support for the Bollywood actor sparked a storm of rebuke. Some condemned his remarks outright, while others outraged about the bit on leaving India.
Gandhi said that the Modi government should reach out to those who "question" the state-of-affairs instead of branding them as "unpatriotic." "That's the way to solve problems in India- not by bullying, threatening & abusing!" he said.
We'll get intolerance more or less everywhere in the world.India should be the safest place for India's celebrity filmstar Amir Khan& family
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) November 24, 2015
A few Bharatiya Janata Party leaders came down on Khan like a ton of bricks, while the party's senior leaders showed restraint while opposing the actor's remarks. Others in the ruling party reminded him that his film PK was a huge success despite objections from right-wing outfits.
BJP's firebrand Yogi Adityanath said, "If Aamir Khan wants to leave the country he can go. The population of the country will come down."
For once, Adityanath appeared to be on the same page as the firebrand Muslim leader, Asaduddin Owaisi, head of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, who said that Khan was talking nonsense. "I would have never said what Aamir said. We have seen numerous riots but still we continue to live here as its our country," he said.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said that few cases of intolerance should be not be portrayed as the norm in India. "You can't take the exception to be the rule. You can't be alarmist over stray incidents," he said.
BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, in-charge of Minority Affairs, said, "Neither is he going anywhere nor will we let him go."
Smriti Irani, who heads the Human Resource Development Ministry, said that Khan being the brand ambassador for tourism, and speaking his mind before Jaitley, showed that free speech thrived in India. "I am a living example of Modi 's tolerance...he forgave me though I publicly attacked him," she told NDTV.
Others felt that Khan had the right to speak out as an individual.
"You can't reduce people like Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan to one community or a particular point of view. They are speaking as individuals who really have shown over the years tremendous concern and patriotism for country," said Congress Party lawmaker Shashi Tharoor.
BJP shud stop silencing voices thro abuses n threats. Its high time centrl govt took concrete steps 2 instil sense of security amngst people
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) November 23, 2015
#AamirKhan has an opinion and I have mine, they don't have to be the same. But my nation allows both of us to have them! That is that!
— Shakthi (@v_shakthi) November 24, 2015
Some of the harshest pushback came from Khan's fellow actors.
Anupam Kher, who has railed against those expressing fears about intolerance over the past few months, asked Khan whether he would advise others to move out of India or wait for a regime change?
Dear @aamir_khan. Did you ask Kiran which country would she like to move out to? Did you tell her that this country has made you AAMIR KHAN.
— Anupam Kher (@AnupamPkher) November 23, 2015
Rishi Kapoor asked Khan not to run away.
Mr.&Mrs. Amir Khan. When things are going wrong and the system needs correction,repair it,mend it.Don't run away from it. That is Heroism!
— rishi kapoor (@chintskap) November 24, 2015
Raveena Tandon didn't mention Khan, but she asked "these people" to directly speak against Modi instead of shaming the nation.
Let's cut the BS-why can't these people openly say that they weren't happy since d day Modi became PM..instead of shaming the whole country
— Raveena Tandon (@TandonRaveena) November 24, 2015
While an overwhelming proportion of the reactions have made Khan's remark about an insult to India, some offered more nuanced arguments as well.
In an open letter to Khan, HuffPost columnist Sandip Roy congratulated the actor for speaking his mind before cabinet ministers of the ruling party, but asked him where he would feel safe, and how his sentiment of moving out is different from the "hackneyed rebuttal #GoToPakistan."
"As a Muslim man, even if you claim to “represent everyone”, you do realize that even in the First World, Muslims are hardly the most welcome?," he wrote.
While most of the senior BJP leaders were restrained in their opposition, it was the trolls on social media who gave credence to Khan's sentiment. Some even resorted uninstalling the mobile app for "Snapdeal," an e.commerce website which Khan endorses.
— Avant (@Avant77) November 24, 2015
— The Crazy Sim (@thecrazysim) November 24, 2015
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