We erect huge facades for celebrities. And maybe that is the reason for us undermining their individuality. This is to say that, we expect them to do a lot of things and say a lot of stuff, or not say particular things. And in this, we undermine their capacity to be just another human and citizen with the same messed up life – and most importantly, the right to an opinion, just as anybody from amongst this multitude of 1.25 billion has. To us, they must do what we expect of them and not what they want.
It’s like back when all the opinion platforms were stormed in reaction to an apprehension expressed by one of the most acclaimed actors, Aamir Khan, which he voiced rather bravely and, notwithstanding the tornado coming his way, stood by.
And as a sequel to this sad state, we again saw an almost similar episode repeated.
Just a few months ago, another person, again an acclaimed celebrity, took the same path and boldly voiced his opinion – or anger to be more precise – against what he called “forced religiousness”. In a series of tweets, starting from his own situation of being awakened by the sound of amplified Azaan to a general comment on temples and gurudwaras. Just as this celeb maintained the bold tradition of speaking up on issues that matter to them, ‘we the people’ also didn’t fail to maintain our’s – that of blowing things out of context and silently condemning the one who dares to speak up.
Though the issues were different, they had a lot of similarities. From being presented as biased against a particular group, implicitly against Hindus in Aamir’s case and Muslims in Sonu’s, to the whataboutery in response, the violent threats and abuses, or, worst of all, the vulgar abuses against the women in their families. All these things boiled down to the same level.
Except for the similar reception, there was one more surprising commonality in these incidents.
Aamir said that he feels worried about the safety of his family on account of rising intolerance. This proved to be well-founded, considering the reactionary storm it led to. Then, Sonu ended his series of tweets with the note, “Gundagardi hai bus.” Which was again proved quite germane by the reaction it bumped into.
Apart from the similar contours of reception, the central ideas were quite similar as well. Unfortunately, though, the elephant in the room went unaddressed both times.
Aamir raised a pertinent question. And what could have led to a serious introspection of the collective conscience of us as a society, was misinterpreted, deliberately enough. The thing to worry about then was that we have come to the point where one of the most loved Bollywood stars has started to feel insecure, just because of the background he comes from. And what this implies about the level of fear among commoners sharing the same background. But thanks to the mess we made, we missed a chance for self-assessment as a society. Demagogues then went so far as to question his patriotism, and many even had the audacity to certify him as an ‘Anti-National’.
Similarly, Sonu Nigam also had an important point. And what should have been taken up as a question on the legitimacy of putting our prayers – and calls for prayers – on loudspeakers, was mispresented as a bigoted comment on Azaan itself, when all the celeb questioned was the loudspeaker. Maybe he was well aware of the reaction that it would incur, as he also made his stand on all religions clear. But that wasn’t what a few sought. To them, the line had been scratched on the stone, and Sonu Nigam ceased to be a brilliant singer and now was just a ‘Sanghi’, ‘Modi Bhakt’, ‘an Islamophobe’ and what not.
One couldn’t have expected any better from the society we are, but there is something in the latter case which is more worrisome. Identifying as a free thinker, one had faith in a handful of our compatriots, who always held the flag of freedom of speech high. They were the very first to support Aamir when he was targeted. But this time, neither did these people show up, nor did the flag they earlier held high. The articles, editorials, cartoons, debates and discussions in support of Sonu Nigam were all missing.
In fact, the opposite happened. The very people who used to stand for big principles, were singing different notes this time. A few chose to remain silent, and the rest had the hypocrisy of setting an intellectual precedence for the diatribe that was being channelised Sonu’s way.
This has made few things very clear. Primarily, the people who were thought to be very bold in their opinions aren’t bold enough, and secondarily, the ‘neutral’ commentators deemed to be upholding rationality aren’t unbiased enough. In fact, this is what the right-wing often says about these people. It seems their neutrality has lost to their set audience, and this audience holds more importance than intellectual honesty. They appear to be idolaters of preconceived truths, and of course ‘liberal’, and inquiry has become tantamount to blasphemy. This is alarming. This implies that we are genuinely short of rational people and all we have are some right-wingers and some tunnel visioned, though self-proclaimed liberals.
And for free thinkers out there, people, you are in difficult times. You can’t air your opinions boldly now. You have to conform to the opinions of these people, else be ready to be branded as ‘Bigots’ and ‘Bhakts’, or ‘Anti-Nationals’, ‘Pseudo-liberals’ and ‘Sickulars’.