So Amir Khan’s wife says “maybe it is time to leave India and settle somewhere else” and pronto Amir Khan gets convinced that the nation of his birth, the nation where he has spent his entire fifty years in peace and tranquillity, the nation that has given him an opportunity to earn millions, the nation where he has millions of fans irrespective of his or their religion or beliefs, has suddenly become an intolerant place to live. Should we say QED and rest the case here?
This is the same Amir Khan of the highly acclaimed ‘Satyameva Jayate’ programme that was aired on national TV wherein he talked of many issues of national importance ranging from child sexual abuse, health, rape, criminalisation of politics and Idea of India among others. All these were undoubtedly national problems. The nation was hooked to his weekly episode with viewership across the country. He came across as a really sincere and committed Indian who was genuinely interested in studying, analysing, raising awareness and possibly finding solutions to these national problems. The effort was lauded across the nation without any reservations. Today based on a few isolated small incidents of communal disharmony and some loud thinking by his wife he comes to a conclusion that India is heading towards intolerance. He sees growing intolerance everywhere, is alarmed by the number of incidents reported, senses fear coupled with insecurity and above all he sees disquiet and despondency around. That is a lot to say on an issue which is without doubt an issue of extreme national importance. However it is certainly nowhere near being a national problem as on date despite a few stray incidents that have been blown up by media or other vested interests. The creator of ‘Satyameva Jayate’, who researched and studied many pressing national problems in great detail to understand them before presenting them to the public, suddenly decided to declare India as intolerant without any credible evidence or understanding.
It would have been worth his while if Mr Khan had asked himself some questions before airing his views in the prestigious forum where he was invited as a guest. Without a doubt he knew that what he might say will go viral in matter of minutes, discussed and dissected thread bare by friends and foes alike. Why did he set aside his famous penchant for perfection and opened his mouth without really doing any due diligence on the issue? Has India’s tolerance culture not survived for over six decades despite stray incidents of this nature year after year? Is last one year the worst year for such incidents in terms of sheer numbers or casualties? Is the nation seriously moving towards intolerance due to these few incidents? Did he realise the serious consequences of his views on the nation as a whole since he is not an ordinary Indian but someone who commands a fair amount of respect and following? It is obvious such questions never crossed his mind, but if they did and he ignored them, then he stands guilty of fuelling unrest and spreading intolerance where there is none. That in itself is a very serious matter and it shows complete lack of judgement on his part.
India, home to over 18% of world’s population, is a diverse society and there is no other nation that comes even a close second in this respect. This has been so for centuries and is not a recent development. Religious and cultural tolerance has been the hallmark of Indian society taken as a whole. Without a doubt, within this diverse universe that is India, most communities have suffered some intolerance at times, but it is equally true that these communities have also been intolerant themselves from time to time. Bengalis and Assamese, Sikhs and Hindus, tribals and non-tribals, Brahmins and lower castes, all have had their share of not only suffering intolerance but also of being intolerant towards others. Hindu and Muslim societies have been no different in this regard. However the moot point here is that the problem of intolerance has never gone out of hand or reached a level where the nation as a whole has been threatened. The more serious aberrations towards intolerance in the recent history of India have been the 1984 Sikh riots, 1989 Bhagalpur riots, 1992/93 Mumbai riots, exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir and 2002 Gujarat riots. It also needs to be emphasised that politics played a major role in each of these cases barring the exodus of Pundits from Kashmir. But to India’s credit, the nation always recovered in quick time to rediscover its trait of tolerance and moved on. The only exception in this regard is Kashmir where Pundits, the original inhabitants of the land, are still unwelcome. One does not have to be extra wise to understand which community is practicing intolerance in Kashmir.
To his credit Amir Khan did not say who was practicing intolerance and he did not name any specific community. But then it would be very naive of him to think that a common man will give him any benefit of doubt in this regard on an issue that is potentially very sensitive as well as emotional in nature. Did he not realise that the first thing that will come to anyone’s mind is that he is speaking as a Muslim? Surely no one will ever believe that he was talking of intolerance by Muslims towards Hindus or being neutral by blaming both – Hindus and Muslims. Add to it the fact that he publically airs his wife’s views about leaving India and settling somewhere else. In light of this if someone surmises that Mr Khan was indeed talking of intolerance towards Muslims, he cannot be faulted. Last but not the least; was the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards the right forum to air such views? The answer can be in the affirmative only if one wishes to raise a storm on a potentially sensitive and controversial issue without bothering about the consequences across the nation.
It is surprising that Mr Amir Khan did not feel threatened by the issue of intolerance when people like Owaisi brothers from Hyderabad, Maulana Badarrudin Ajmal from Assam, Azam Khan from UP, Maulana Jhakeer Nayeeb from Mumbai, Shahi Imam Barkati from Kolkata or Shahi Imam Bukhari from Delhi made all kinds of inflammatory speeches and insinuations against the Hindu community over the last few years. In any other nation many of them would have been charged with sedition and given exemplary punishments but in tolerant India it is different. It may be pertinent to ask why there are hardly any Muslim voices that condemn such remarks. Unfortunately when some Hindu fringe elements like Sadhavi Pragya or Sakshi Maharaj or Sangeet Som utter some frivolous remarks with respect to the Muslim community or talk of cow slaughter, suddenly India becomes an intolerant nation. This despite the fact that there are more Hindu voices raised in protest than all others combined. Is there any doubt that all the above named Muslim leaders, spread across the country, hold high stature within their society, exert tremendous influence and have a large reach within the Muslim population? In comparison the Hindu leaders included above have, at the best, a miniscule impact on Hindu society with only a small regional reach? Does Amir Khan give more credence to some fringe elements that make occasional ill conceived utterances over the assurances of the Prime Minister of the country? Is he threatened about his personal or family’s safety every time he steps out of his home? Has he encountered intolerance in his professional or social circles? Does he not see the love, affection and regard showered on him by the general public every time he interacts with them? One just wonders where he has experienced intolerance and the rationale behind his infamous remarks.
Sorry Mr Amir Khan, you have stepped out of line this time and let down the very nation that has made you what you are today. From the heights of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ and glory of ‘Incredible India’ to the depths of perceived ‘Intolerance’, you have indeed come a long way, unfortunately in the wrong direction.