I am no fan of Shah Rukh Khan, but I strongly believe that he is a wronged man for the article he wrote in Outlook Turning Points, the full text of which I have been able to read only today (read it here in full and judge for yourself).
Though I don’t like SRK for bringing up his Muslim identity every now and then, but then that is his choice. When you read what he had to say in his article - the publication of small excerpts from which led to a snowballing controversy - I can completely empathise with his consternation over all the fuss. I don’t believe there is a single line in it that I disagree with – though one can disagree with many lines if you take them in isolation.
The fundamental point SRK makes is not about how he is hounded or unsafe in India or how he is targeted for his religious identity, but the reality that we live in a world of stereotypes.
The core of his message comes from these two paras:
“Stereotyping and contextualising is the way of the world we live in: a world in which definition has become central to security. We take comfort in defining phenomena, objects and people – with a limited amount of knowledge and along known parameters. The predictability that naturally arises from these definitions makes us feel secure within our own limitations.
“We create little image boxes of our own. One such box has begun to draw its lid tighter and tighter at present. It is the box that contains an image of my religion in millions of minds. I encounter this tightening of definition every time moderation is required to be publicly expressed by the Muslim community in my country.”
This is the core of his “complaint”, if any, but even here he is not talking about any kind of ingratitude to the country he is proud to be a part of. He is merely regretting the fact that every time some terrorist blows up something somewhere in the name of Islam, he is supposed to offer the apologies or provide exculpations for acts by others.
In fact, we should all be equally empathetic to what SRK has said for we are all, at some point of time or the other, victims of stereotyping.
The case of sociologist Ashis Nandy, who is now being accused of making anti-Dalit statements, is exactly the same kind of situation. Nandy has been pilloried for making the simple point that while the upper classes know how to hide their corruption, the OBCs and SC/STs are yet to achieve this level of sophistication, and hence appear more apparently corrupt that the rest. (Read what Nandy said here)
However, the similarity to the SRK predicament lies not in Nandy being misunderstood or misquoted, but in this fact: just as SRK is expected to carry the cans for all Muslims when it comes to terror, in the case of Hindus they have to offer regular mea culpas for caste discrimination all the time. All Hindus are supposed to be tarred with the same caste brush. It’s stereotyping at work, just as SRK said it.
In the case of Ashis Nandy, who ironically hails from an elite Bengali Christian background but is not avowedly a practitioner of the faith, his statement about OBCs and Dalits being “most” corrupt was assumed to come from an upper caste Hindu bias. Hence the extreme anger about his statements. In India, all derogatory statements about Dalits are presumed to come from a caste-oriented Hindu dispensation. That he was actually speaking up on behalf of OBCs and Dalits is almost immaterial.
In India, you can’t be a Hindu without apologising for being one, just as SRK says you can’t be Muslim without being apologetic about Islamic terror groups or any outrageous statements made by Islamists. You can’t take up a Hindu cause without being labelled a bigot. If you take up the causes of minorities in Pakistan or the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the Kashmir Valley, you have to preface you statements with adequate sentences about the fundamental inequities of caste in Hindu society.
Another stereotype relates to gender. You cannot be a man in India and not apologise repeatedly for what men do to women in India. It is not possible to be a man and be proud of one’s gender; you can’t make a loose statement on women and get away with it, but women can.
It is possible for women to stereotype men and claim “that men want only one thing”, but you can’t be a man and say anything as insensitive about women. Women can talk about the “commodification” of women and point fingers at men, but men can’t say that women also “commodify” men in their own way.
The commodification of women is, incidentally, not related only to patriarchy, but the evolution of a hyper-consumerist society – where wares are displayed and bought based on visual criteria, as in a mall.
Studies have repeatedly shown that more than love, considerations like wealth and status often play a greater role in women’s choices of partners. A man is thus commodified by associating him with his wealth or status, not his intrinsic qualities.
I do not find myself disagreeing with the broad thrust of the JS Verma Committee report on criminal laws involving rape and gender justice, but the underlying tonality of the report is largely about stereotyping men as perpetrators of injustices against women. After claiming to believe that the Indian constitution and its republican character guarantee women’s rights, the report then goes on to suggest an entire Bill of Rights for Women as though women’s rights are somehow divorced from human rights.
After bringing the idea of marital rape (rightly) to the table, it then goes on to imply that it is the same as non-marital rape when the remedies for the two crimes, though similar, may be different. How does it benefit women to send their partners to seven years of jail (the minimum sentence for rape) unless they want to end the relationship? The right remedy for marital rape should, ideally, be some kind of punishment that will not end the marriage, unless the woman wants it to. Counselling and compulsory social work could be other elements of correction in cases of marital rape – especially when the offence is a first time offence.
The Verma committee also makes no attempt to tackle the issue of technical rape. For example, where there is consent for sex on the understanding of future marriage or some other consideration, the sex itself is not against someone’s will. The issue here is breach of trust, not rape. Hence it is technical rape. But Verma does not seek to make this distinction. It is just rape.
Stereotyping, clearly, is not a one-way street. It cuts both ways. As SRK said, “Stereotyping and contextualising is the way of the world we live in.”
The only way out of it is to refuse to accept the stereotype. We should also refuse to play victim even when we may be victimised. But we still do it, because victimhood brings political benefits.