Bollywood Star Speaks Out Against 'Growing Intolerance' In India
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
In the past two months, India has been rocked by a series of killings of Muslims by Hindu mobs. The victims were accused of eating beef. Cows are sacred in the Hindu faith. Many blame the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi for stoking the violence with legislation seen as pro-Hindu. There's also anger over Prime Minister Modi's failure to condemn the attacks.
SUKETU MEHTA: Narendra Modi, who is extremely loquacious on all manner of topics, on this issue, the attacks and the lynchings of Muslims for eating beef, he's being conspicuously silent.
WERTHEIMER: Suketu Mehta is the author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found." He's one of the many Indian writers and artists who are protesting against the Modi government over this issue. The controversy has grown so large, it's even drawn in an unlikely part of Indian society, Bollywood.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in foreign language).
WERTHEIMER: India's giant film industry, with its big-production romantic musicals, usually stays well clear of politics. But now its biggest box office star, Shah Rukh Khan, has spoken out, expressing his concern over, quote, "growing intolerance in India." Known as the King of Bollywood, Khan is part of India's large Muslim minority. His comments sparked a response from a senior leader in India's ruling nationalist party who tweeted that while Shah Rukh lives in India, his soul is in Pakistan, a reference to India's longtime neighbor and adversary. Mehta says that left many shocked.
MEHTA: To associate Shah Rukh Khan with Pakistan is as ridiculous as someone associating Denzel Washington with Africa or Woody Allen with Israel. Although Shah Rukh's family is from Pakistan originally, like many Indian Muslims, his father was a freedom fighter. His father fought for the independence of the whole subcontinent from the British. So he's proud of being an Indian. And in his remarks, what he said was that this kind of intolerance is ridiculous. It's growing, and it needs to be paid attention to.
WERTHEIMER: Mehta thinks this will backfire against the government.
MEHTA: Shah Rukh Khan is possibly the most beloved person in the entire country of India. And so when people attack Shah Rukh, they really are losing the crowd.
WERTHEIMER: Many Indian writers, artists and scientists have returned awards given them by the government. It's a protest that Mehta says is really about the future of a secular and tolerant India.
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UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in foreign language). [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this story, we refer to a series of killings of Muslims in India, which has sparked protest by artists and entertainers in that country. It is more accurate to say that so far two people have died in a series of attacks against Muslims.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.