October 15, 2021
In November 2015, a year after the Narendra Modi-led government came to power, Shah Rukh Khan, India’s biggest superstar, grabbed headlines for criticizing where the country was headed. “There is intolerance, there is extreme intolerance,” Khan said in a television interview. “Religious intolerance and not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot.”
Khan received vicious backlash for his comment. Two months before he spoke out against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on primetime television, a Hindu mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh had brutally killed 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq on suspicions of stealing and slaughtering a cow calf. Yogi Adityanath, the self-styled godman who would later become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh — the state with the highest cases of cow-related lynchings — compared Khan to a Pakistani terrorist and said that the actor should remember that if the country boycotted his films, then he would have to wander the streets like a “normal Muslim.” Khan eventually retracted his comments.
Six years later, Khan is living through the reverberations of what he dared to call out: India’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) arrested the actor’s 23-year-old son, Aryan, during a drug raid. In the days since, new details point to possible BJP involvement. The timing is suspect as well, with the arrest days before elections in Adityanath’s state. The BJP is merely following the same script as last year, when the party turned actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death into a Bihar election issue — shepherding a witch hunt against his partner Rhea Chakraborty, who languished in jail for amped-up drug charges. Making an example of the country’s biggest Muslim superstar fits into the BJP anti-Muslim rhetoric. The case is a stark reminder that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Bollywood superstar or a mechanic in Dadri — being a Muslim in India today means living at the government’s mercy.