“Your Silence Will Be Remembered”

Why Indian celebrities are mum about the politics of India’s COVID-19 crisis.

Imaan Sheikh

May 4, 2021

“Your Silence Will Be Remembered”
Imaan Sheikh for The Juggernaut

Indian celebrities are coming under fire for keeping mum about the country’s COVID-19 crisis, which has taken 222,000 lives so far. “This virus has really exposed so many people & institutions...Bollywood icons, celebrity journalists, cricket stars, spineless politicians,” reads a tweet from screenwriter Harneet Singh. “Your silence & tone deafness when India was fighting its biggest war will be remembered.”

For weeks, netizens have been helping mobilize efforts for COVID-19 relief in India, as well as voicing their disappointment in the government’s mishandling of the crisis. Meanwhile, several of India’s biggest stars — many who were louder at the start of the pandemic — are often silent or, if they do mention the crisis at hand, are sure to elide what or who might be responsible for it.

Those disgruntled by this silence, however, should not be surprised. In the past, Indian celebrities who have dared to speak or show up have been met with swift retribution from the Hindu right. When actor Deepika Padukone showed up to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi last year, a smear campaign alleged that she had been bribed by a Pakistani businessman to do so. In 2015, when actor Aamir Khan aired that his family was scared of India’s increasingly intolerant political climate, backlash ensued. After India banned Pakistani actors from Bollywood, producer Karan Johar, who had cast Pakistani actor Fawad Khan for a film, was deemed “anti-national” and had to issue an apology. In 2015, after actor Shah Rukh Khan called India “intolerant,” he was deemed a Pakistani agent by Hindutva leader Sadhvi Prachi, and told to go to Pakistan.