Keep quiet or condemn? The case of Pakistani artists in India

It’s pretty safe to say that tensions between India and Pakistan are currently on a knife’s edge. It has been over two weeks since the terrorist attack in Uri killed 19 Indian jawans and we have seen everything from diplomatic punches at the UN, the boycotting of the SAARC Summit, and a professional surgical strike by the Indian Army on terrorist launchpads inside PoK, killing more than 50 terrorists.

Up to now, you’d have to say it has been a pretty powerful reply from India. It has braved a new no-nonsense approach to dealing with Pakistan, which is being well received across the country.

However, there has recently been calls by various political, media and celebrity figures to kick out the Pakistani artists and actors who are working and residing in India. Every man and his dog has had his say on the matter, with the likes of Salman Khan hounded by media and political figures for sticking up for his Pakistani peers. At the very same time, politicians, journalists and members of civil society have actively come out to condemn the cross border terrorism and mourn the loss of lives of Indian jawans who died protecting the country.

This issue is threatening to divide civil society as well as the Bollywood film industry. Many of Bollywood’s top actors have backed the calls for Pakistani actors to return home. Others have called for Pakistani actors to come out and condemn the terrorists if they wish to continue working and living in India.

I’ve been thinking about this issue ever since it was first brought up about a week and a half ago and I really cannot come to a clear conclusion on the matter. On the one side we don’t ever want to associate Pakistani artists (and the majority population) as terrorists, but on the other hand there is no doubt that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism.

So where does this leave the Pakistani actors and artists? Not sure, but I would like to bring attention to some relevant arguments that may help us come to a proper judgement of the issue at hand.

“Pakistani actors should openly condemn the terrorist activities perpetrated by its government.”

This argument has been laid out by many highly regarded political and media figures over the past week or so. Popular figures such as Javed Akhtar, Rishi Kapoor have been vocal in this regard, whilst Adnan Sami, a former Pakistani national who was recently given Indian citizenship, has come out urging Pakistani artists to condemn the attacks.

Pakistani classical singer Shafqat Amanat Ali, who recently broke his silence to condemn the Uri attacks, summed up the situation quite articulately himself.

“If your host has extended you a warm welcome, and suddenly a fire breaks out in his house, do you just run away? I feel they should have condemned the attack.”

At the same time, many iconic Indian actors have come to the defence of Pakistani artists saying that they should be delinked from the terrorists. The likes of Salman Khan and Om Puri were bashed on social media for defending Pakistani artists signifying clear public support for the government to continue to play hardball on this issue.

Whilst I don’t think anyone has the right to force anyone to say anything or take a particular stance, we have definitely seen double standards by some within the industry. Ali Zafar wrote a special tribute song for the victims of the Peshawar school attacks in 2014 and was extremely active in condemning the attacks. Till today he has remained silent on the Uri attacks in which 19 Indian Army jawans were martyred. Fawad Khan was also quoted as saying “Bollywood kisi ka baap hai kya?” (Is Bollywood the big daddy?) and “Hindustaniyon ka dil bahot chhota hai” (Indians have small hearts) in response to the calls to send Pakistani artists home.

I feel like the popular saying “you don’t cut the hand that feeds you” applies to this situation. But I feel like Pakistani artists are in a conundrum. On the one hand, they can stay silent on the matter and lose popularity and credibility within India, or alternatively, condemn the attacks and risk an all out assault from the Pakistani media and society. Adnan Sami did just that, and he is now receiving countless hate mail as well as death threats from across the border.

But is it more complex than that? Are Pakistani artists simply too afraid to speak out against attacks such as Uri, Pathankot and 26/11 because of the involvement of the Pakistani ISI and the possible retaliatory measures that could be taken by the various terror networks that run within Pakistan? Or is it because of links to the underworld as many suggest is still prevalent in Bollywood today. Links between Dawood Ibrahim and the film industries of both countries have been well documented, and could be a real underlying factor in the reluctance for some to speak out against the atrocities.

If there are such fears in regards to possible retaliatory measures that could be taken by the ISI and terrorist groups, perhaps India should offer asylum to Pak stars that openly condemn such activities. This was the narrative being played out last Thursday on the News Hour Debate with several intellects agreeing that such a move would see many artists come forward, which would add salt to the wounds of an already isolated and seemingly nervous neighbour.

Whose opinion really matters?

Clearly the opinions of our political elite matters, as does the views from fellow actors and media personnel. But I feel like we’ve forgotten about the people who really matter. The brave jawans protecting the borders day in day out have been forgotten in all of this. They are the ones putting their lives at risk to protect the nation from further infiltration. In my view, the Indian Army personnel and other defence divisions within the country are the best people to comment on this issue. Who can ever forget about the 7 jawans that lost their lives at Pathankot, or the 19 at Uri? And what about the Mumbai police who took on AK-47 wielding terrorists with mere lathis?

Surely these guys should have the final say on whether they stay or go. After all, they are the ones doing the bleeding for the country. I’m sure the government and home ministry can conduct some sort of opinion poll within the Indian defence force to gauge the sentiments of the personnel. Let them be the ones to decide whether or not Bollywood should continue to provide roles to Pakistani stars that have no problem in condemning attacks in Brussels or Peshawar, but not in India.




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