His name is Khan and he is misunderstood

January 29, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)

When Bollywood heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan shared his views on religious stereotypes in an article in Outlook Turning Points magazine, it turned heads as the editors likely expected. Some media outlets criticized Khan, saying he sought “refuge in Muslim victimhood.”

Hafez Saeed, founder of Pakistan’s banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and a suspect in the Nov. 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people, said Khan should move to Pakistan if he feels unsafe in his country.

Khan’s column in fact is a frank account of what it’s like to be the subject of stereotypes in a country you love, but that doesn’t always love you.

“Stereotyping and contextualising is the way of the world we live in: a world in which definition has become central to security,” wrote Khan, who has a Hindu wife, and practises the rituals of both religions. “We take comfort in defining phenomena, objects and people — with a limited amount of knowledge and along known parameters.”

Khan skilfully addresses this old problem, and it would be hasty and divisive to say that he was attacking the country that has made him famous. About 13 percent of India’s population is Muslim, but tension between Hindus and Muslims persists and occasionally flares into gut-wrenching violence.

It’s also a problem abroad. Remember the infamous incident in which U.S. immigration officials at Newark Liberty International Airport detained him in 2009. Khan wrote about it in this article.

“Some stripping, frisking and many questions later, I am given an explanation (of sorts): ‘your name pops up on our system, we are sorry.’ ‘So am I.’ I think to myself, ‘Now can I have my underwear back please?'”

Much criticism against Khan has been directed at this passage in his essay: “I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. … There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation rather than my own country — this even though I am an Indian whose father fought for the freedom of India.”

Here’s a response from Venky Vembu in an article in Firstpost, a news and opinion website. “Oh, cry me a river, Shah Rukh. Millions upon millions of fans in India made you who you are — without pausing even to reflect once on your religious identity.”

Indeed, millions didn’t reflect, but that leaves out millions more who might have.

Khan’s message, if anything, appeals to the advantages of an India that remains rich because of its cultural diversity. In this passage, he refers to his family: “The four of us make up a motley representation of the extraordinary acceptance and validation that love can foster when exchanged within the exquisiteness of things that are otherwise defined as ordinary.”

Khan has done well at being true to his background and religion and an Indian and South Asian superstar. It seems like it would be good to appreciate his effort to talk about a topic like this in a country which has a long way to go in pulling down barriers and building up understanding.

(You can follow Anurag on Twitter at @anuragkotoky )


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Misunderstood and or misinterpreted by Anurag? But the fact is: All most every one one will agree that, INDIA is the only country where Muslims are safe & secure under any circumstances. Shah Rukh Khan is apparently trying to grab media attention to shore up his waning popularity. It is flabbergasting to note his studied silence on the Pakistani Terrorists comments as well that of Pakistan Government, which is creating the lurking suspicion in the public at large of possibility of a collusion and or nexus between Mr. Khan & Pakistan Government supported by Terrorists & it may gain credence if he remains silent.

Posted by satsangi | Report as abusive

Why do you care about an actor’s point of view on Pakistan?

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

@satsangi: Are people aware of India’s role in Kashmir insurgency? Has it struck us why Muslims in the region have picked up arms against us? The truth is this that since 1950 we have rigged elections in the state. This continued till 1987, when the govt defeated popular candidates through RIGGING. This incited anger and in fact many of the leaders of the insurgency were the defeated candidates. And what happened after is shameful and is recounted by William Dalrymple:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives  /2008/may/01/kashmir-the-scarred-and-th e-beautiful/?pagination=false

If you are interested in longer version of the story, this is an excellent article by Pankaj Misra

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives  /2000/oct/05/the-birth-of-a-nation/

P.S: If Shahrukh’s views on terrorism was enough to stop the attacks, we would have used him long before. If you have read William Dalrymple, you will know how we shamelessly fired on unarmed crowds protesting against police brutality. We literally pushed them towards Pakistan for help and till today none of us have even apologized for killings.

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

I think Venky Vembu’s point was that Mr.Khan is part of the privileged elite that shouldn’t complain about stereotyping and victimisation. He has the system and public opinion his side. So either the Indian government or public at large have rushed to his aid whenever his civil liberties or commercial interests were threatened by say the US government or lumpen elements in India. I would think that Mr.Khan will be taken seriously if he reaches out and helps genuine victims of caste, religious and ethnic strife in India and South Asia. So perhaps he can start by voicing the concerns of Kashmiri Pandits, victims of Gujarat riots, Sri Lankan war victims or Shias in Pakistan. Then we can conclude that he wants to make a difference rather than just indulge in cheap PR.

Posted by athreya | Report as abusive

full agreement with the author.its time we give some space to our superstars.even the most frank emotional outlet is misunderstood by us

Posted by ekkax | Report as abusive

Well I just want to add to my previous written view. Literature on Kashmir is extremely diverse with each side portraying the other one as the real demon. Though I am sure of the firing incident as reported by William Dalyrymple,it is also concurred by Indian newspapers, I do want to qualify Misra’s claim that 1987 elections were rigged or for that matter most of the elections were. I know from Indira’s biography that in 1980’s she played Hindu-Muslim card in the state, a thing that would be unnecessary if all elections were rigged and in 1987 Syed Gelaani was himself elected to the legislature. So I am not sure about the claim that we never had any fair or free elections in the state.
In fact P.Misra’s works seems to be a complete copy of Geelani’s ideas http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx  ?270160-1 and perhaps I realize that lot of caution has to be observed in readings on Kashmir. So I want to take back my above words that all elections were rigged. In fact, I am not sure about anything regarding Kashmir at the moment.
But yes I do know two things: i) I have no support for separatism and ii) I don’t doubt the loyalty of Indian Muslims.

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive