Gurpreet Singh: Standing up for Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor

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      Bollywood diva Kareena Kapoor has come under attack from right-wing Hindus in India for naming her newly born baby Taimur.

      Married to Bollywood Muslim star Saif Ali Khan, she was blessed with a baby boy on December 20. The couple decided to name their child "Taimur", which means Iron in Arabic.

      But not everybody was impressed. Particularly, the Hindu nationalists—who say that Taimur (or Timur as it's sometimes spelled) was a tyrannical Muslim conqueror, who invaded India and slaughtered Hindus between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

      After the name of the newborn was announced, the couple faced a backlash on social media, mainly from right-wing Hindus, who slammed them for giving their son the name of a brutal invader.

      It is not the first time that Kapoor, who was born into a Hindu family, has come under attack from Hindu fanatics. She was a target of their vicious campaign when she married Khan in 2012.

      A magazine published by the women's wing of a right-wing Hindu group carried her morphed picture on the cover that depicted her as part Hindu and part Muslim, with half of her face covered with veil.

      It was a part of their controversial “Love Jihad” movement that targeted Muslim men, who were being accused of entrapping Hindu women and then forcibly converting them to Islam. The movement was widely condemned back then by secularists.

      Notably, Kapoor has kept her Hindu name though she uses Khan as her last name. But that is not the point. Whatever name she wants for herself or her child is purely her choice and nobody has a right to interfere with her personal freedom.

      The Vishwa Hindu Parishad made Kareena Kapoor the centrepiece of its Love Jihad campaign.

      The issue here is that a female Bollywood star is being repeatedly hounded by religious fanatics who are in the habit of indulging in moral policing. They are the same people who have always looked upon Muslims with an eye of suspicion.

      Under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government, they have become emboldened and continue to target Muslims over range of issues, including terrorism and eating beef.

      Kapoor is not alone in being harassed by such forces as Bollywood bashing is part of the agenda of those who owe allegiance to Hindu nationalists in power. 

      Other Muslim stars—including Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui—have also come under attack during recent months.

      Aamir Khan was targeted for sharing his concern over growing religious intolerance in India. Meanwhile, Shah Rukh was described as a Pakistani agent by supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

      Dhoom 3 star Aamir Khan is one of several Muslim actors who've been harassed by Hindu fundamentalists.

      Hindu fanatics did not even let Siddiqui perform in Ram Leela, an annual countrywide play that depicts the story of Lord Rama, one of the most revered Hindu gods. In 2003, Salman Khan also came under attack when it was reported that he might act as Rama in a movie.

      Only recently following a militant attack on an Indian army installation in Kashmir, the Bollywood establishment came under pressure not to cast Pakistani actors.

      The attack was blamed on Pakistan-sponsored Islamic extremists. This resulted in a split within Bollywood as many stars supported the idea of banishing Pakistani artists, while others were opposed.

      Nevertheless, Shah Rukh recently assured one Hindu group, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that a Pakistani star Mahira Khan will not be invited to India to promote his upcoming film, Raees, which he has done with her.

      Watch the trailer for Raees, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Mahira Khan, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

      Looking at the larger narrative, Hindu nationalists have always tried to question the patriotism of Muslims, never accepting their faith as an indigenous religion.

      Hindu revivalists have always emphasized that Muslims came to India as invaders and destroyed their temples. These Hindus not only describe Taimur as villain, but also portray Akbar—a secular and liberal Muslim king in the 16th and 17th centuries—in a negative light.

      Even if we assume for a moment that Kapoor has deliberately named her son after Taimur the invader, then why is not a fuss being made about the stepson of Anupam Kher, another Bollywood personality and a staunch BJP supporter? The stepson's name is Sikandar. It's an Urdu alternative of Alexander, who also invaded India. It is pertinent to mention that Sikander’s mother, Kirron Kher, is a BJP MP.

      If naming anyone after a tyrant is a sin, then Hindu fanatics should also think about other historical and mythological names that may cause trauma to non-Hindus in India.

      For instance, Manu, the author of an ancient Hindu code that created the caste system, upsets Dalits, or so-called untouchables, who remain an oppressed community in India.

      Likewise, Dronacharya, a Hindu teacher, denied a tribal boy's entry into his school of archery to favour Hindu princes during the period covered by the Mahabharata.

      Manu’s statue was installed outside courts in the Indian state of Rajasthan, whereas the Indian government has instituted the Dronacharya sports award.  

      Kapoor did not do anything wrong. Those who are attacking her and trying to impose their ideology on Bollywood have shown their true colours and proven that India is becoming increasingly intolerant under the BJP government.

      Georgia Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh shows solidarity with Kareena Kapoor (albeit the wax version at Madame Tussauds in London).

      It is time for all humanists and secularists to not just stand up for her but also for Bollywood to reclaim the secular space it used to occupy—despite some serious limitations, such as caricaturing certain communities.

      Bollywood, too, should be forced to stand up against pressure from sectarian forces. Otherwise, the Indian diaspora should think of boycotting the industry to send a strong message.

      After all, it partly survives on revenue generated through film watchers in countries like Canada.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a founder of Radical Desi. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings