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September 2017
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The Aamir Khan Effect: A New Wave Of Indian Patriotism?

Quite recently, famous actor and philanthropist Aamir Khan made some comments about his family’s feelings regarding spending their lives in India. “Sometimes, Kiran (his wife) is scared about the future and our kids’ future here in India”. It’s interesting to see that a simple, honest sentence such as this one has sent the entire nation into a media frenzy; the ‘story’ was covered in one of Arnab Goswami’s infamous debates on Times Now, and was probably even more covered by the average Indian on all types of social media platforms. People were extremely quick to call Khan a traitor, interpreting his comments as him feeling that India was too intolerant. Some even called for his deportation (impossible since he is an Indian citizen), and for the boycotting of all his upcoming movies. Of course, as is with all social media blow-up, there were much worse things said about Khan and his family simply because he voiced his opinion on the current political and social climate in his own country.

Spending a lot of time on social media, it was extremely interesting to see the different viewpoints about this non-issue. What really struck was however the sheer hatefulness that was apparent in quite a lot of tweets and Facebook posts.

An angry tweet posted by a Twitter user in light of Khan’s recent remarks

An angry tweet posted by a Twitter user in light of Khan’s recent remarks

Tweets such as this are no rarity. In fact, they reflect the popular opinion of young Indians all around the world. 88% of Times of India readers sided against the views of Khan, and instead supported the statement that “there is no better country than India and no better neighbor than a Hindu for an Indian Muslim”. So where is this sudden patriotism coming from? Is it part of a hidden political agenda, or are people just voicing their opinions for the sake of it?

Indian student Tanya Sharma, 18, studying at Bard College in Berlin, feels that this ‘forced wave of nationalism’ as she calls it, has been brought upon by a societal need for change. She refers to the fact that when other news stories, such as rapes or political scandals, are covered, the public is quick to label the media as anti-nationalist and as defamers of India, however nobody does anything about it. Sharma is also irritated by the fact that many are forgetting the facts on which Khan based his initial comments on; India still has an evident, yet underreported, caste-bias problem, as well as daily acid attacks and a worsening education system. She feels that particularly social media users who are hurling out insults should sit back and reflect on why Khan has made his statements in the first place, agree to disagree, and maybe act upon issues that are till date hindering India from becoming a fully developed country. Sharma also voiced that she finds it quite upsetting that there is an ever-growing amount of religious and cultural diversity in India, along with a huge and climbing population with “less than enough resources to provide for our needs”, but the main issue that Indians are currently concerned with is freedom of expression.

Unsurprisingly, Khan issued a follow-up statement on his Facebook site in light of the media frenzy that surrounded his initial views. Even more unsurprisingly, people got even more upset at what he had to say.

Khan’s response to the media frenzy following his initial statement

Khan’s response to the media frenzy following his initial statement

People responded by asking him how many bodyguards he has around, whether he has already applied for his residence visa in Pakistan, and to “MIND HIS WORDS”. As Khan pointed out in his statement, responses such as these just prove the actor’s point of intolerance being a problem in India. It also furthers the point that there is an extreme new trend of patriotism that is spreading across India, which may sound like a good thing, but is currently only leading to rude and abusive social media exchanges and bashings of Khan on national television.

In my opinion, all this energy that Indians are spending on aggressively promoting nationalism online, should be put to practice and should be used for the development of the country. If people are so very passionate about being Indian, they should put that forth by organizing awareness rallies, helping out in local government schools, investing in local economies to help citizens in more rural areas… I could go on! This wave of nationalism that we are witnessing is more about writing things and getting likes on comments than it is on actually changing the socio-political situation that India is facing today, which is quite sad considering that India is the world’s largest democracy.

The tweets and Facebook posts probably won’t stop until the next big Bollywood star scandal. They might actually increase again as Khan has resumed filming for his next movie, Dangal, which is set to release this time next year. It’s going to be very interesting to see whether there will be a shift in narrative, whether Indians will realize that they could put their love for their nation to good use. I certainly hope so.

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