Naseeruddin Shah is neither the first, nor will he be the last to be hauled over the coals for speaking out against the climate of hate and bigotry that has been unleashed in the country. "Good" Indians are outraged that an actor with a Muslim name has dared to hold up the mirror. How dare he? Instead of being grateful for the standing conferred on him, he is questioning what he sees around him. That's the common response to Naseer's genuine outburst over the sad state of affairs in our country today.
The controversy began on December 17 when Naseeruddin said in an interview that the killing of cows is treated as more important than the lynching of a policeman.
But the award-winning actor is hardly imagining the monstrosity of the mob that has been unleashed.
"The djinn is out of the bottle and it will not be easy to put it back in it," the veteran actor lamented.
Leaders of the ruling establishment have uncorked this djinn of hate and lawlessness. Muslim-hating has been normalised like never before. Mob is the rule. A bunch of guys can decide to dispense instant punishment to whoever they can get a hold of. They hide behind "gau mata'' slogans on some occasions, behind the flag on others. They have this impunity because they know that those in positions of power will justify and defend their acts. Killers boast about their actions on camera (Saharanpur). Murderers are garlanded by a union minister (Jharkhand). Victims are dubbed culprits (Alwar, UP). You kill a Muslim and you'll be feted, lionised, money will be collected for you (Shambhulal, Rajasthan) - this is the message that I, as a Muslim in today's India, receive over and over.
This djinn stared India first in its face in Dadri when a blood-thirsty mob lynched an old man over the suspicion that he stored beef in his refrigerator. If the leadership wanted, the djinn could have been imprisoned back in the bottle then and there. But politicians tasted blood. The djinn has been on a free run since then.
Is Naseeruddin wrong? An on-duty cop in Bulandshahr is killed by a mob (with videos) enraged over alleged cow slaughter, and the chief minister's first response is to tell his police force to go after the alleged cow killers. He doesn't even mention the fallen cop. Normal? Yes, apparently, in some version of the new India. The mob has to be pampered. How dare a cop come in the way of cow terrorists? And it doesn't end there. Some Muslims are picked up swiftly for killing cows, but the suspects in the murder of the policeman remain free. Then it turns out that the Muslims who were picked up quickly for killing the cows are innocent.
You question the government over the failure of the law in protecting a police officer and then in bringing the guilty to book. "But what about cows?" local leaders shout back. In Cop Vs Cow, you know who the winner is. Normal? Yes, in some version of the new India.
Online and offline, the regime's supporters and apologists argue that stray incidents are being blown out of proportion to malign the Modi Sarkaar and by extension India (as if they are one and the same) globally. There can't be a more bigoted or head-buried-in-sand argument in the face of the hate storm that is sweeping India.
IndiaSpend data shows that 78 cow-related hate crimes have been reported across the country since 2012. Most of these - 97% of all incidents - have occurred after May 2014. Further analysis of the data shows that 2017 was the worst-ever year for cow-related violence with 37 incidents of mob attack. In 2016, the figure was 24 and this year, it has fallen to 21. Of the 29 persons who have been killed in cow-related hate violence since 2012, 25 were Muslim.
The kind of hate that is being directed at Naseeruddin Shah over his voicing genuine concerns is sickening. The same happened with Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan when they spoke up against intolerance. Online mobs made sure that Aamir had to pay a price commercially with Snapdeal downgrades and online campaigns against corporates associated with him. The message is clear - if you are a successful person with a Muslim name, you better keep shut. Your speaking out against injustice will always be taken as lack of gratitude towards the country 'that has given you so much'. A Muslim in new India must be thankful if s/he is "allowed" to succeed because "Look at how non-Muslims are treated in Muslim countries".
Trouble is some of us don't accept this version of India - we just won't give in.
(Mohd Asim is a Delhi-based journalist.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.