Is India tolerant? It doesn't matter because the reactions to Aamir Khan's statement justify his fears

'Go and live in Pakistan; I will buy you the ticket if you want to take the first flight out of India; how dare you criticise the country that has given you so much; why do stupid Hindus let Muslim actors bark like this...' For disturbing evidence of our growing intolerance to criticism and freedom of expression, you need to look no further than the acerbic, volatile reactions to actor Aamir Khan's statement that his wife Kiran Rao suggested leaving India.

"Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet,” he said at an Indian Express awards function on Sunday.

Predictably, the India-is-so-tolerant-and-how-dare-a-Khan-criticise-it army is out on Twitter and TV, ready to run down the actor and his family for talking about their private fears in public. Their panoply of rage, the violent words and metaphors his critics have used must have convinced Aamir Khan that his wife's fears are justified.

 Is India tolerant? It doesnt matter because the reactions to Aamir Khans statement justify his fears

File image of Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. Reuters

When convincing Khan of the core liberal and tolerant ethos of India, assuaging his doubts and fears would have been the more civilised response, the rabid, hate-filled, personalised attack on the actor's statement has only undermined the debate and deepened the existing divisions.

Let there be no doubt about this: Every individual in this country has the right to express his opinion. And his thoughts can't be dictated by the mob that feels slighted by every word of dissent and sees in every divergent expression a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country. What a person feels and fears is determined by his personal experience and environment; these emotions are lived, not borrowed from the lives of others and are not subservient to their needs. Even though he is part of it, an individual is a distinct unit of a society. Only the puerile and the pernicious would argue that an individual exists to strengthen the collective dogmas even when they are contrary to his beliefs and experiences. As Howard Roark says in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, “no individual should recognise anyone’s right to one minute of his life. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”

So, Aamir Khan has every right to express his fears, to share his concerns. Frankly, any Indian would have battled with private demons after being treated the way Aamir Khan was after the release of PK, a brilliant send-up of the superstitions, myths and evils that plague Hinduism.

PK was an interesting — or trite if you have seen films on similar theme — take on the misconceptions and myths that are part of our daily life. But opponents of the film wanted it banned not because it looked at the odd and the hilarious in our lives; they wanted PK to be pulled out of theatres because the director had ‘targeted only the Hindus’ and couldn’t muster the courage to laugh at other religions.

Just because Aamir Khan starred in a film that looked at India's Baba-culture, blind faith, myths and the culture of exploitation in shrines, the poster-burning cabals went after him, calling him a traitor, pointing at his religion and mocking at Khan's perceived reluctance to act in similar films on Islam, when a similar film starring Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal had barely created a whimper. PK went on to collect Rs 620-crore, a resounding rejoinder to those who thought the audiences should reject it because it was anti-Hindu. But, by then, the looney brigade must have given adequate proof of their bigotry for Aamir Khan and his family to reconsider their future in India.

If Aamir Khan fears India's growing intolerance, he has valid reasons for it. Those mocking and trolling him from behind the anonymity of twitter handles, accusing him of being part of a politically-motivated campaign — wonder, what then is their take on Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal's criticism of the actor? —  should remember this: Aamir has every right to feel hurt and angry because of the actions and vitriol of the India's lunatic fringe, even if he is an actor and his name is Khan.

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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2015 12:08:13 IST