Anyone who decides to fight discrimination on religious grounds faces the wrath of fringe groups, like Emraan Hashmi recently did. Why, asks well known director Mahesh Bhatt

My grandmother wants to take me to an astrologer to help me to arm myself for the painful future that may lie ahead of me. According to her, this is the end of me,” read the message from Emraan Hashmi to me late on Sunday night.

Social malignancy

Although the tone was laced with his usual irreverent humour, I could detect the anxiety that lurked beneath the surface. After all, by audaciously alleging that a certain society in Pali Hill had refused to sell him a flat because of his religion, he had brought to the surface the social malignancy that everybody saw but few spoke about. And now he had an activist of the BJP’s National Youth Committee gunning for him as well as me.

The gentleman was accusing us of promoting enmity between communities and had approached the police with an application to take criminal action against us. There was no getting away from the fact that we had unwittingly walked into a minefield. Not only had Emraan’s whistle-blowing provided grist for the mills of the 24-hour TV channels, it had also put the truth back on the table; the truth that, a few months ago, Shabana Azmi and a television actor Amir Ali had also very candidly talked about to the national media, without specifying details however.

What Emraan had done was to act instead of waiting for others to do so. Threats to liberty unfold constantly in our society. And the onus is on civil society to lead the fight instead of waiting for politicians to solve their problems. Having been discriminated against and having failed to prevail upon those who had violated his fundamental rights, Emraan had approached the Minority Commission and the State Home Ministry to look into the matter.

At the very onset he specified that the issue was not about one flat for him, but that it was much larger and the implications more far reaching. As we all know, every community — not only in Mumbai but also in the rest of India — has been discriminated against at one time or another. My daughter, Pooja Bhatt, cannot inherit property from my first wife who is a Christian, because she herself is not one. I have been fighting for years for such issues, from the blood-soaked region of Nagaland to the heartbreaking plight of the Kashmiri Pandits in the camps of Jammu, as well as for the Muslim minority, who have suffered repeatedly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in various parts of our country. However all this has been conveniently ignored by my opponents.

I have always been astonished at the ease with which uninformed persons come to a settled, passionate opinion when they have no grounds for such judgement.

What Emraan did not realise perhaps is what many from the film fraternity know only too well... if they speak up, they will be criticised and attacked; like Aamir was when he locked horns with Narendra Modi on the Narmada Dam issue. And if they keep silent, they will be vociferously blamed and sniggered at for their silence by some of the media, who make a star’s every utterance the talking point of the day.

But, by doing what he did that day, Emraan has unwittingly brought to surface the submerged anguish of countless people in Mumbai. We have come to a point in history where our silence has dangerous implications. There was a time when an artist could remain aloof from the social injustice around him but, I feel, he no longer can. Until now, the artist was on the sideline. All he would do for his own survival was to encourage the martyr to take on the lion, or reflect the ills of society through his work and fight the oppressor in the virtual world. What Emraan has done is to make the transition from being spectator to participator in the amphitheatre.

I was filled with genuine admiration for him, so I punched the following in reply to his message: “Yes, it is the end of the reel hero who fights demons on screen and the birth of the real hero. I admire your courage to stand alone.... lv Mahesh.”

Call for unity

We, who are always compromising, perhaps have not yet grasped that idea that truth is the only safe ground to stand upon. I cry out to people everywhere to come out of their shells and tell the truth about those situations which violate their fundamental rights to all the citizens of this country. Because we are one planet, one nation, one people with only one future. The time is here to re-frame the existing narratives and myths and tell the truth from the bottom up by engaging our collective voice. Because the only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.

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