What’s in a Name, Apparently A Lot. Just Ask Shah Rukh Khan!

I am no fan of Shah Rukh Khan or his cinema, but I share an identity with him that of being born as a religious minority in a country and a culture that prides itself upon being united in its diversity. However, unlike Shah Rukh I have enjoyed certain privileges that the religious majority in India has enjoyed thanks to my very distinctly Hindu first name. Nobody has ever asked me why I do not hang a cross across on my chest or why I am wearing a salwar kameez and not a mini skirt, because the latter is what catholic girls wear according to the Indian stereotype. All of which my cousins, aunts and uncles who all have Catholic names have been accustomed to… However, the above does not mean that we do not love our country or our religious group – these are two things, like Shah Rukh says, that define us and that we identify with, everything about it we have grown to love and live with.Unlike Shah Rukh, I also do not happen to be a celebrity, so anything I say will not be held as a representative of my entire religious community and nor will my words be twisted and turned around by politicians for their public benefit.So why is Shah Rukh in the news again? In a recent article titled Being a Khan, Shah Rukh talks among other things about being a religious minority in a very religious and multi-faith country. The article has now been interpreted and dissected by both the Indian and Pakistani media to mean something altogether. The meaning they interpret is of Shah Rukh feeling unsafe in India. With “well-intentioned” Pakistani politicians claiming that Shah Rukh needs their protection, to them my answer would be to concentrate on their own citizens and their economy and to leave Indian citizens alone.

To the Indian politicians my answer would be to stop using celebrities as election agendas and do something more productive. How about focusing on issues such as gender sensitization or having more stringent rape laws, I am sure our country has bigger fish to fry than Shah Rukh Khan.

However, I am not surprised with politicians from either of the countries, but what upset me more was the Indian media and journalists. Time and again you give credence to lesser known politicians, who will say anything to stay relevant. Are you so starved for TRP’s that you have to keep replaying Rehman Malik’s comments about Indian Muslims not feeling secure? I am sure there are enough stories happening in India… And we have our own Rehman Malik’s to deal with, we don’t need to focus on the Maliks in our neighborhood.

I read Shah Rukh’s article numerous times and never once did I find any inkling of him complaining about being a Khan or being an Indian. If SRK has indeed written the article, I am amazed by his writing abilities; he is a good writer… What struck me was the last line in his article, which said “I am a Khan, and that’s what it has meant being one, despite the stereotype images that surround me. To be a Khan has been to be loved and love back…” I wish, someday everyone living in India with a last name Khan could say that being a Muslim or a Khan meant being loved and being loved back.

However, after the furor that his article has created Shah Rukh has now issued a statement wherein he says that henceforth he would stick to talking about his films and not about other important things. I don’t blame him, because we cry and rue that our celebrities don’t talk about socially and politically relevant issues but when they do we twist and turn their words to mean something totally different and let alone they hail from a religious minority then their thoughts or views are meant to be a representative of their entire community. While I do understand that celebrities should be more socially responsible. Strangely though, I have not witnessed an instance when a religious majority speaks of something and it was made representative of their entire community. For example, Raj Thackeray has spewed venom on various religious and ethnic minorities at various times but not once have his thoughts been made a representative of how his religious or ethnic group thinks as a collective. But, people were quick to jump on Shah Rukh and cite that religious minorities like to play their victim card when they are criticized. I don’t know how and where they read about Shah Rukh calling himself a victim, because I read his article and I do not think for once he has called himself a victim. On the contrary, he keeps stressing that he has been blessed!

I think it is important that each one of us looks at the privileges that we have enjoyed, for reasons that are beyond our control. What I mean is the privileges that we have enjoyed because we were born in a certain religion, sex, caste or any other group. It is important to recognize our privileges because only then will we be able to empathize with those that have not been accorded with these privileges and acknowledging our privilege is not going to make us small or to make us the oppressor.

I would like to conclude with: Do we want our celebrities to stick to talking about their diets and fashion choices or do we want them to talk about issues that we face as a nation? We may not agree with their view points but let us at least listen to their voices, even if it is not what we expected to hear from them.

At the end of the day all of this may have just been a publicity stunt, but I think it is important to talk about such issues

This write-up appeared in Desiclub.com, a website I contribute to…

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