IT would not be hyperbole to say that much of the world is facing a right-wing ascendancy. From Europe to America, xenophobia is on the rise. It goes without saying that this is a malaise that affects our own region as well. A recent reminder of this came on Friday in India, when Bollywood senior Naseeruddin Shah was castigated by right-wing elements for remarks that would in saner times have been considered perfectly reasonable. He had been slated to inaugurate the fifth edition of the Ajmer Literature Festival, as well as participate in a session on his book. Speaking as a “worried Indian” — to use his words — he expressed in a video interview with Karwan-e-Mohabbat India his discomfort about the direction in which the Indian polity was headed, referring to his anxiety over lynchings in his country. This was a reference to the recent violence ignited by the discovery of the death of a cow. A police officer was killed by a mob. “The death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer,” remarked the veteran actor, also expressing his concern for his children in these intolerant times. His words sparked off protests by hard-liners, including the youth wing of the ruling BJP that burned posters of the festival carrying the actor’s image, demanding that he apologise. As it all escalated, the festival organisers called off his event and cancelled his keynote address, saying that while the police had been summoned, it would be safer for the actor to refrain from coming to the venue.
This sort of situation has in recent years become a worrying trope in India’s reality. If stars ranging from Karan Johar to Priyanka Chopra to, now, Naseeruddin Shah, are made to back down to this extent, the plight of the common citizen can only be imagined. As a ‘secular’ country that prides itself on being the world’s ‘largest democracy’, India needs to curb its worst instincts.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2018