Muslims Not Welcome?

Emraan Hashmi’s reputation precedes him. Since he burst forth on India’s rather crowded silver screen some years ago, the young actor has remained in the news, not for his acting prowess but for his steamy roles.

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Published: Thu 6 Aug 2009, 9:38 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:45 AM

Of late, though, spotlight has been following Emraan for a different reason.The star known as India’s ‘serial kisser’ has raised many an eyebrow in and outside Bollywood by complaining of ‘discrimination’ in Mumbai because of his faith.

The actor has claimed that his attempts to buy an apartment in the upscale Pali Hill have been frustrated by the housing society concerned “because I am a Muslim.”“I am not a terrorist,” protested a visibly irate and agitated actor in a media interaction this week.The housing society officials, however, deny the charge.

Emraan is not the first Muslim star to raise alarm over “religious bias” in Bombay or Mumbai. Some of the country’s biggest movie stars have complained of being denied the right to live where they want because of their beliefs.

Veteran activist-actress Shabana Azmi and Saif Ali Khan, one of four big Khans of Bollywood, had been hounded for months by the shrill, holier-than-thou television networks for suggesting they faced discrimination in the country’s most cosmopolitan city.

Salman Khan, the original bad boy of the tinsel town known for his runs-in with law and his stormy, suicidal affairs, has slammed Emraan’s claim saying if religious discrimination had been at work in Mumbai, Emraan wouldn’t be the big star that he is today.

Salman, who’s been enjoying his new avatar as a television host, has rather reasonably argued that if there had been any substance in Emraan’s claim, Muslim actors like Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan himself would not be what they are today, India’s biggest superstars.

As for the ever-effervescent Shah Rukh Khan, the reigning emperor of the world’s biggest movie industry, he plays safe. Even though, Shah Rukh emphasises, one cannot deny the presence of discrimination in some places, what happened in Emraan’s case is a “one-off incident and should not be given too much importance. “We are a fast growing nation and we should not allow such little incidents to affect us.”

Both Salman and Shah Rukh are right. On the other hand, it is not possible to ignore the issue raised by Emraan Hashmi, and before him, by Shabana Azmi and Saif Ali Khan either.After all, the three actors in question are the most liberal of their generations and can hardly be accused of cheering for Taleban or being typical examples of ‘conservative Muslims’. Reality, as always, lies somewhere in between.

Maybe Emraan is just being paranoid or plain stupid in seeing discrimination in the housing society’s refusal to sell him the apartment.But when a liberal artist like Shabana, whose illustrious family has been so closely associated with India’s freedom struggle and Progressive writers’ movement, complains of discrimination, you’ve got to sit up and take notice.

Notwithstanding India’s phenomenal progress on all fronts and broadening of a billion horizons, this disease has grown at an alarming pace in recent years. And Mumbai is no exception. All thanks to the decades of divisive, hateful politics and propaganda onslaught by extremist groups and parties like RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.

On the other hand, if Muslims are increasingly finding themselves unwelcome in their own cities and towns and in the land of their ancestors, some credit should go to our friends across the border in Pakistan.

India’s often explosive and at best of times blow-hot, blow-cold relations with its Muslim neighbour and the numerous terror attacks across the country, ostensibly the handiwork of groups based across the Line of Control, have also immensely contributed to this sad state of affairs.

Now I know we in India are facing a clear and present danger in global terror and we have indeed repeatedly suffered on this front, thanks to the outfits that have operated out of Pakistan for years with impunity.

But does that mean we, as a nation should ceaselessly moan about Pakistan, ISI and their ‘conspiracies’ to destroy India? If you were to believe the pundits on Aaj Tak, Zee News and our good ol’ Doordarshan, ISI appears to be running the affairs of our world.

The trouble is, this Pakistan-centric reportage and ‘expert analysis and commentary’ often degenerates into anti-Muslim ranting and insinuations and incriminations.As a result, even as Indian Muslims bend over backwards to ‘renounce’ Pakistan and repent the Original Sin of the Partition, their position becomes ever more precarious in the eyes of their countrymen.

So even though I’ve never faced any discrimination either at work or as a lone Muslim at my university, I think I know what Emraan Hashmi is talking about or why people like him feel unwelcome at times.

This happening in a city like Mumbai, home to Bollywood, is a true tragedy.For nothing epitomises and celebrates India’s fabled tolerance, plural character and its breathtaking religious and cultural diversity as the film industry does.The Muslims, struggling and straggling in all walks of national life for at least two centuries, have excelled in every art and realm in Bollywood.

From gifting some of the finest filmmakers to singers, writers and poets to the biggest box office stars, Muslims have immensely contributed to the industry that makes movies twice the number Hollywood produces each year.This is why it’s remarkable that Muslims should be denied home in a city that has been so special to them and remains a powerful symbol of India’s pluralism and generous spirit.

So where do Muslims go from here?There are two ways of dealing with the problem. Either you cry yourselves hoarse and huff and puff over this continuing ‘discrimination’ and ‘injustice’.This is what we have done all these years and it comes rather easily to us. But it will get us nowhere.It hasn’t in the past six decades or so.

The other option before India’s Muslims is to work harder to make themselves more welcome and acceptable to their host societies and neighbours – by their conduct, their behaviour and their general approach to life. It is past time we broke out of our mental ghettoes, mixing more freely and determinedly with other communities.This is not an easy option.But this is the only way to make ourselves more at home in this great country – and elsewhere on the planet.It’s time to open our windows and let in some fresh air.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and can reached on Views expressed here are his own.

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