Backlash over comments on 'intolerance'

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • Bollywood star Aamir Khan, who starred in a television campaign to promote India, has complained of "rising intolerance" in his homeland, sparking a storm of criticism including from the ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Khan, who like many Bollywood stars is Muslim, said on Monday that a sense of "insecurity" and "fear" was gripping India and revealed that his wife, producer-director Kiran Rao, 42, had even questioned whether the couple should leave the country.

"As an individual, as a citizen, certainly I have also been alarmed, I can't deny it, by a number of incidents," he said at an awards ceremony in New Delhi.

His comments attracted a major backlash on social media in the Hindu-majority country and a withering attack by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"Don't forget, India made you a star," said BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain at a press conference. He said it was "not all right to malign our Incredible India", a reference to the campaign slogan used to promote the country of 1.2 billion to tourists. Khan, 50, featured in a commercial as part of that campaign.

The row was trending on Indian Twitter on Tuesday, but users were divided over the actor's comments. "You publicly spoke your mind and that is courage," said one, while another accused him of mounting a "malicious campaign".

TV footage on Tuesday showed activists burning posters featuring Khan in several cities across India, while police protection at his Mumbai home was reportedly upgraded.

Khan is the latest celebrity to raise concerns about religious and cultural intolerance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected last year.

Actor Shah Rukh Khan referred recently to "extreme intolerance in India" after the lynching of a Muslim man last October over rumours that he had eaten beef.

Earlier this month, nearly 200 figures including author Salman Rushdie signed an open letter urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise "the rising climate of fear" in India with Mr Modi during his London visit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Backlash over comments on 'intolerance''. Print Edition | Subscribe