This Bollywood Actor Had Some Harsh Words About Religious Intolerance

Photo: Gregory Pace/BEI/ Rex Features.
Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who is a Muslim, took a stand against religious intolerance in India, and his remarks were quickly met with backlash from other Bollywood celebrities and government figures. At the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in New Delhi on Monday, Khan said that he sympathized with his wife's desire to leave India.

"She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day," Khan told reporters in New Delhi. Khan praised Indian scientists, filmmakers, and writers who have returned awards given to them by the country, a form of protest against India's alleged religious discrimination.

The circumstances surrounding Khan's statements and the following backlash are the latest in what some have called India's "rising climate of fear." Earlier this month, roughly 200 people, including author Salman Rushdie, wrote an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, asking him to address India's "climate of fear" with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Khan also referenced an incident in September, when a 50-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death, apparently because of rumors that he had butchered a cow and saved the meat in his refrigerator. Cows are sacred to Hindus, and a mob of people became angry when they heard that the man's family had allegedly eaten beef.

Anupam Kher, Ramgopal Varma, and Raveena Tandon, who are all Bollywood celebrities, criticized Khan shortly after his remarks.
The backlash only got worse from there. The ruling Hindu nationalist party even spoke out against Khan's comments, reminding Khan he's lucky to be Indian.

Shahnawaz Hussain, a spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), directed some harsh words at Khan during a press conference.

"Don't forget, India made you a star," Hussain said. He added that it was "not all right to malign our incredible India." And activists in several cities nationwide actually burned Khan's effigy on Tuesday — The Malaysian Insider reports that dozens of people set fire to posters featuring the actor's photo.

The situation is certainly nuanced, but the reactions to Khan's statements prove there's definitely work to be done before religious tolerance in one of the world's largest countries is fully achieved.

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