Shah Rukh Khan and a rail gadi named intolerance

With more looniepan and no debate, where is the discussion on (in)tolerance headed in India?

ByMadhu Trehan
Shah Rukh Khan and a rail gadi named intolerance
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Yeh itna sannata kyun hai, bhai? As Imaam Saheb asked in Sholay.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

I mean the thousands of flowers that bloom in the desert of Twitter. I have never known such quiet. No, I am not gloating. Just wondering. Is that all it takes to silence the trolls and abusers on Twitter? Just one little Bihar election?

It has been a tumultuous time. M M Kalburgi’s killing, Mohammad Akhlaq’s murder, Award Wapsi, last days of campaigning in Bihar, Anupam Kher’s protest against Award Wapsi, the raging debate of intolerance versus intolerance, and not the least, Shah Rukh Khan’s 50th birthday.

It was November 2, 2015. It turned out to be a prescient conversation. Barkha Dutt and Shah Rukh Khan spoke about when the star gives a statement where he expresses his perceptions; abuse and suggestions to go to Pakistan are issued. On November 3, 2015, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Kailash Vijayvargiya and Yogi Adityanath obliged. So did Sadhvi Prachi, who called him a Pakistani agent.

If any of the three loonies (and I use the word ‘loonies’ deliberately) had bothered to see the interview with Barkha or Rajdeep Sardesai, they would have seen that Shah Rukh had already anticipated their looniepan and had responded. He said, “Please stop telling me to go away from here and settle down somewhere. I’m not going. Even if you push me out, I’m not going.”

Both Rajdeep and Barkha asked Shah Rukh about his views on the intolerance debate buzzing the nation. It was the topic of today. (Will it remain a debate after the Bihar election?) They were right in asking him. Both were freewheeling interviews, discussing many different issues. Shah Rukh gave interviews on that day because it happened to be his 50th birthday. Should Shah Rukh have anticipated that anything he said would be used as a tool that would creep into the Bihar elections? Should Shah Rukh have taken into account that since he had received a notice from the Enforcement Directorate recently, a politician in a bizarre move would link it to that? Did Shah Rukh say this government is hounding him? No. He was answering a question about intolerance and the responses of the loonies only proved him right.

This is what BJP Member of Parliament Minakshi Lekhi had to say.

“Intolerance” has become the new item on the block. It is the new iPhone 6. It is a coveted item and hordes want a piece of it to ride their own agenda.

People from all political parties, writers, artistes, scientists, filmmakers, you know the list, have been jumping on the rail gadi of intolerance! Some are in the engine driving it (include media and politicians), some are just hopping along as the train stops at stations and some are only catching up after the train has left the station, as with Arundhati Roy. (At least, she showed the grace with an egoless trip by joining a campaign not led by her. Funny, how she had to hunt for her award to return.) Theek hai. But what a mela! There are the station masters and ticket collectors (read Arun Jaitley, Swapan Dasgupta, Anupam Kher, Sambit Patra, et al) trying to stop the train and throw ticketless riders off the train. It was ironical that the Congress party, which has been at helm of intolerance in all their years in office and passed legislation to muzzle the social media, ban books, films, people, jumped on the train too. I would classify them as the kids who jump on trains at stations selling chai garam in tiny, thick glasses and laddoos at Haridwar station. Sorry, that analogy doesn’t work because they officially look down on tea sellers and anything from Haridwar would be tainted. But, there is no doubt that they were brazen enough to join the ride.

How did the mad jamboree happen? Veteran journalists who have tried to practice their profession honestly have always been at loggerheads with those in power, whichever political party it happens to be. And, I trust they will continue to be. Bibek Debroy sited three examples of intolerance of previous centres of power, saying, “I cited these three examples to drive home the point that intolerance has always existed and we will be stupid if we haven’t recognized it.”

So Nayantara Sahgal dusted off her award and decided to return it citing an “intolerant atmosphere.” Hordes followed and then the whataboutery and India yet again became the Tower of Babel. Why didn’t you then? Where were you then? Who is stopping you from talking? X says Y, Y says Z, which has nothing to do with what X said, then W comes in and says U, and the lovely cow comes in and boggles them all up by saying moooo!

If members of the government had simply called these Award Wapsis in for a discussion and heard their complaints, it would have possibly diluted it. (Rajnath Singh did finally invite them for a discussion but it was after the train had left the station. Nayantara Sahgal returned her award on October 6 and Rajnath woke up on November 2.)  But, it is good they are not that imaginative. If Sahitya Akademi had issued a statement on M M Kalburgi’s murder immediately, it would have definitely quieted it. But, those in power always seem to fall into the trap of living up to a projected image as adversary, when they could have been strategy-smart and refused the role of an adversary. They could have simply agreed and said, “Yes, intolerance is not good and we won’t tolerate it.” If the BJP took an official stance against intolerance, it would have taken the wind out of the sails of the Award Wapsis, got fence sitters to get off and support the BJP and most important of all, sent a message to the loonies to cut the crazy talk. Then, they could have carried on with the undercurrent of intolerance nonchalantly. But, they didn’t do any of that so it was excellent that the perennial subterranean currency of intolerance under all governments so far, erupted.

What Shah Rukh spoke about was the intolerance we have of each other’s views; how there are no longer debates but simply abuse. He spoke at length about his loyalty to his country and felt hurt that he had to keep proving it.

Yes, he was free enough to say it and we are free enough to protest against intolerance. But, what he objected to was the death of debate and the birth of insults.

If you are living with the fear that you will bring damage to your work and all those working with you will suffer, isn’t that living under the shadow of intolerance? Who can deny that we censor ourselves because of that fear? Owners of news organisations kill stories because they do not want their offices trashed and burnt down and have dharnas outside their homes, no matter how brave the journalist wants to be.

A fine example was Anupam Kher’s protest march on November 7, 2015, against protestors against intolerance. I guess, there could be a counter protest against Anupam Kher’s protest and it could build on forever. I always wondered about ‘fast unto death’ protests. What if Gajendra Chauhan launched a fast unto death insisting on his appointment as Chairman of Film and Television of India, side by the side with the students fasting against him? There is no discussion and so there can be no resolution. Who would win? The one who died first?

At Anupam Kher’s rally, NDTV reporter Bhairavi Singh was heckled by an angry mob shouting slogans against NDTV.

A mob surrounded Bhairavi shouting NDTV “Hai Hai”. It is anybody’s guess what could have happened had the police not protected her and escorted her out. Try it some time, if you do not think it is frightening. Some journalists could raise the possibility of her standing her ground and continuing to report. Yes, there might be some women who would have done so. But, no rational or humane behaviour can be expected from a mob and it could have led to something even worse and it’s not smart to risk it. I’m sure her parents breathed easy that she left. But all that aside, if you dislike a news channel there are many options in a democracy. You could refuse to watch the channel. You could upload your own piece-to-camera on social media from a simple cell phone that could counter Bhairavi’s report.

But, hounding her out of her assigned beat only proves the point of Award Wapsi. Anupam Kher’s rally showed up the intolerance they claimed did not exist. Anupam, well, Anupam. It was a bit like Mahatma Gandhi leading a non-violent march with his followers throwing stones from behind him, with Gandhi whispering, “I am non-violent”.  If you cannot control your own supporters for the purpose of your rally, it shows you have not understood what they stand for or they don’t understand what you stand for. Either way, it was a public relations crash and burn.

The sannata that has descended on Twitter is deafening.

I am a fundamentalist optimist. They are introspecting.

They are realising all that aggression and abuse is counter productive. They now know you convince no one if you abuse. And, optimistically, I would hope that the debate on intolerance does not suffer a quiet death.

Those who believe there is no intolerance in India, I would suggest they ask a woman of any caste; a man, woman or child of a lower caste, short, dark, differently abled, if they have ever experienced intolerance. Ask any journalist if there was and is self-censorship, ask any editor if a story has been killed for fear of reprisals and you will have your answer. We all live in naïve reality most of the time and struggle to survive.

(Maybe this video will appear a bit mumbo jumbo to some, but I will take the gamble.)

If we can accept another’s point of view as valid and argue to change it, we will have taken a giant leap to contributing to tolerance around us.

The African American singer Marian Anderson was refused permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall, Washington, in 1939 for being black. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian eventually sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to 75,000 fans and a radio audience of millions. Marian forgave the DAR.

Marian said, “Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can’t see it, you can’t find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating.”

That is what a Muslim, Christian, Dalit, woman, homosexual, and all the ‘others’ feel.

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je 
PeeD paraayi jaaNe re 
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye 
Man abhimaan na aaNe re
One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind.
SakaL lok maan sahune vande 
Nindaa na kare keni re 

A Vaishnav, Tolerates and praises the entire world.

Does not speak ill of others.


Abey, Hinduism, where are you?

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