Daipayan Halder

Shahrukh Khan and the secular media

Posted in Uncategorized by daipayanhalder on December 17, 2008

Published on subalternstudies.com on Dec 15, 2008

Call me a fan, but Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan is fun to hear. Self-promotion apart, his views on ‘work is worship’ and ‘nobody is a minority in a new India’ make for good dinner-table debate. Shahrukh is vocal about many issues, often politically incorrect and most often provocative. This time though, after a few fidayeen attacked Mumbai, Shahrukh was uncharacteristically quiet. The media, and that includes the English language ’secular’ media as well, immediately put a question mark on his quietness and headlined him.

Timesofindia.com asked why Shahrukh hadn’t spoken out.  As contrast, Amitabh Bachchan was headlined saying he now sleeps with a gun under his pillow. A few other worthies also expressed their shock and anger in print and TV and expressed solidarity with Mumbaikars in this dark hour.

Within hours, the article on Shahrukh’s silence moved up to the ‘most read articles’ slot. Comments of readers below it made interesting reads. A gentleman wrote Shahrukh is uncaring about the misery of millions, but the gem was the next one: Shahrukh is anti-social and being a Muslim supports the dastardly attacks.

To be honest, I was waiting for someone to say it out loud. Every time, India is attacked, Indian Muslims are expected to swear by India. If they choose to remain silent, they are branded
anti-Indian.

Hindustan Times had a front-page story on December 6 on how muslims have become suspects all over again after 26/11. In a government school, the story said, a Muslim boy was called a Pakistani by his teacher after the terror attacks in Mumbai. The boy protested and the teacher was pulled up. But more such incidents were recorded.

Shahrukh, meanwhile, decided to speak out and appeared on CNN-IBN with his views on the two Islams, the Islam of Allah and the Islam of the Mullah and lamented how a few fanatics have misinterpreted the religion to suit their narrow ends.

“I’ve tried to keep away from commenting on this as there are no words to express a situation like this because our feelings are mixed with anger, disbelief and sadness. Being a Muslim myself, I believe youngsters need to understand Islam and respect the religion in the right way. I think no agenda should be attached to any kind of religion. The religion our children are born with should be something they practise as a discipline and work should be developed as the new religion,” he said .

Actor Saif Ali Khan also slammed terrorists for killing “innocent people” in the name of “God” or “religion” in an interview to the Times of India. “As an Indian and a Muslim, I feel like expressing my condemnation and outright disgust toward any party killing innocent people in the name of God, Allah or whatever we choose to call him.

“I am so worried that the whole religion (Islam) will be judged and condemned. There are strong communal feelings running through every strata of our society and I find it hard to defend the fact that there seems to be a Muslim hand behind every detonator. I feel a little scared as a Muslim now,” he said.

It’s nice of Shahrukh and Saif to speak their minds and condemn terror acts and the misinterpretation of Islam, but for the media and the masses to expect they do so every time a bomb is detonated in some part of the country is almost as bad as hinting that being Muslims they have sympathies for terrorists who wreck havoc in the name of Islam.

Insisting they publicly condemn militant Islam after every attack on India alienate them in much the same way that forcing them to stay in ghettos do.

The battle against terror should be a battle for the mind as well as Ronojoy Sen argues in the Times of India. It doesn’t necessarily help if you insist that a Shahrukh speak out to pacify the Hindu right. What the media should have highlighted instead, and it didn’t, was how Muslim clerics came out condemning terror. A gathering of some 6,000 Islamic clerics in Hyderabad endorsed a fatwa against terror issued by the influential Deoband seminary. Sen argues that the role of these clerics is crucial. If they interpret Islam as being patently against terror and violence, it is bound to have an effect on believers.

And at such times the media should highlight them and not the stars.

Shahrukh makes a good copy, a even better picture on the front page perhaps, but to thrust the mike at his face for a soundbite in times like these only reinforces stereotypes. And  that’s just what we stepped out to fight against.

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