We're a country which teaches its kids about the rich heritage of India that boasts of its diversity and how different religions are able to co-exist peacefully. We are, in fact, taught in school about the Preamble of the Constitution of India that reads
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly
resolved to constitute India into a
SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and
to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual
and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT,
ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
Amazing, right? Well there a huge problem with this. While we constantly thump our chests about being a 'secular' country (often referred to as 'sickular' by those few who think of it as a weakness of our nation), we hardly ever adhere to it.
Recently, we ran a story about a 'Ramleela' programme featuring actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui that has been cancelled following opposition by a religious group in Muzaffarnagar. The religious group had a problem with a Muslim being a part of a predominantly Hindu activity.
While the group of protestors has been called a religious group, Indian Express has actually identified them to be the Shiv Sena.
Ever since the Indian audiences were treated to Gangs of Wasseypur, Nawazuddin has become a household name. Our beloved 'Faijjal' was vacationing in his hometown when he approached the Ramleela committee to become a part of their stage play. But because the protestors couldn't look past his religion, the actor had to pull out of the production.
Nawazuddin then posted this on Twitter and expressed his grief over the fact that one of his childhood dreams had just been crushed.
My childhood dream could not come true, but will definitely be a part of Ramleela next year.Check the rehearsals. pic.twitter.com/euOYSgsm3F— Nawazuddin Siddiqui (@Nawazuddin_S) October 6, 2016
You might often come across heart-warming stories about individuals who went past their religions to help people. They are amazing to read, right? Do you know what's not-so-amazing? When a political party fails to uphold the ideals of the constitution and participates in this vulgar display of their bigotry.
It's quite shameful for our country when people actually go out and vote for these political parties that are against a Muslim actor being a part of a Ramleela. Shiv Sena is a legitimate political party and it has a rich history of violence of this sort. Of course you can argue about fringe elements and what not, but if it happens so frequently, one might find it difficult to separate the fringe disruptive members from the party itself.
Artists are the easiest targets in our country, be it *insert a comedian's name here* or a Bollywood star. It becomes really easy for political parties to use them to their advantage for political mileage. Aamir Khan is still made fun of for his intolerance remark and a lot of us proved his point by actually being intolerant towards his views.
Shah Rukh Khan faces troubles every time a new movie of his is to hit the box-office. It had previously happened with My Name is Khan and it was repeated with Fan. It's easy for a political party that takes to streets and indulges in unprovoked violence to disrupt peace and rough-up people at screenings. How does it all stop? With time or when an artist is forced to apologise or take back his arguments.
Bollywood stars have often taken to social media to pledge their support for fellow actors. We've seen that when Salman Khan was acquitted in the drunken driving case. Has any actor made a comment about this Nawazuddin debacle? No. Maybe because he's not that big a star or maybe because they're too afraid to speak up now.
To be honest, it's wrong to blame Bollywood as well. We talk about an actor not giving his opinion on important topics but when they do, movements like #SnapdealAppWapsi are run and TV News anchors are quick to demand an answer that they need to know. Not India. They want to hear something that reflects their own thinking. If it's remotely otherwise, we have hour long shouting matches where the actor is ridiculed and abrasively abused.
Nawazuddin was bullied by the Shiv Sena. Yes. He was bullied because of his religion in a country where secular has become a cuss word. Not that surprising?
Why is discussing this important, you might ask. Maybe because the Uttar Pradesh elections are just round the corner. While we might like to think that democracy works on merit, it's rarely the case. UP elections are fought along the lines of religion and caste. The Shiv Sena has played on the emotions of Hindus to garner some political mileage and guess what? They succeeded.
We are responsible for the fact that Nawazuddin had to cancel his participation in Ramleela. We have let him down. If we don't put an end to this religious bigotry, artists are going to lose hope and India will lose any moral high-ground to call itself a secular country.