I’m not writing to criticise Aamir Khan but, as will soon become apparent, I do disagree with him.
However, let me be more specific: I agree with Aamir’s concern about the creeping and, perhaps, accelerating mood of intolerance that many believe is spreading like a tide through our country. The adjectives others use to describe this may differ. They may not be as strong as the ones I have chosen. But the undeniable truth is there are many who share this concern. Where I differ with Aamir is in my response.
No, I will never leave India on this count. In fact, I would not even consider doing so. To be honest, the thought hasn’t occurred to me. Nor, I would add, will it ever.
This is my country and I belong here. And because I love it I can’t walk away. When it’s threatened by views I find obnoxious my only choice is to fight back. In my own small and, no doubt, inconsequential way that is what I have always sought to do.
In that fight we need the support of the Aamirs, Shah Rukhs and Salmans as much as we need all our Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Parsi brothers and sisters. We need all the enlightened voices of India to speak out. And, indeed slowly, perhaps initially hesitantly, but increasingly more forcefully, they are. In fact, you can already hear them.
As I began, my difference with Aamir is over our response to the problem. Not our concern about it. Nor do I have any differences over his analysis of why many feel insecure.
When wrongs happen — and, yes, that’s a euphemism but I’m using it deliberately — justice is necessary. It needs to be prompt but measured. In India that often doesn’t happen. One can go all the way back to partition in 1947 to find examples to prove this point. There are, sadly, far too many.
Second, when wrongs happen we look to our elected representatives, because they are the people we have chosen to rule us, to speak out and take a strong stand. This is why the prime minister’s reluctance or silence is disturbing. This is why the thoughtless provocative statements by ruling party ministers and MPs don’t just offend and make people nervous. They also rub salt in fresh or festering wounds.
These, however, are things we can change. After all, the Emergency snuffed out our liberties and rights including the right to life. At the time, even the Supreme Court concurred. By 1976 India had reached the lowest ebb of its independent history. The situation today, though different, simply doesn’t compare. But when given the chance the people of India changed this. In the elections of 1977 they fought back and won.
I’m confident India will assert itself. Indeed, I’d like to believe the very government and prime minister we accuse of being unconcerned or unresponsive will also change tack. Popular sentiment as well as their own desire to get re-elected could ensure this.
This is, therefore, not a moment to flee our homes but to stand firm and resolute in defence of the country we love. But, equally, let’s not delude ourselves by boasting we are the most tolerant country in the world. We’re not. If no one else, our Dalit and scheduled caste citizens will convincingly tell you why. Our job as Indians is to change this. Not pack up and head for kinder shores.
The views expressed are personal