Shah Rukh Khan is currently the subject of an outpouring of public sympathy and it is something we must welcome as a good sign. The Bollywood star’s son is in jail over what seems to be far-fetched accusations, and that many countrymen are losing sleep and fretting over what they overwhelmingly deem as ‘unjust’ and ‘gross abuse of power’ by a state agency is proof that we as a nation are not entirely devoid of empathy. Injustices still stir our conscience and the outrage over Aryan Khan’s continued detention over dodgy drug charges, particularly on social media, serves a valuable reminder that we have not lost our ability to voice our collective consternation.
But the spectacle that has come to define the younger Khan’s incarceration with 24/7 news coverage and endless media headlines also showcases our moral failing in a nation that prides itself for its rule of law. Whatever Aryan, or by extension his rich and famous parents are being forced to endure, is certainly chilling. The case against him is palpably far-fetched and there are tell-tale signs that the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) that detained him for his alleged involvement in a planned drug party on a cruise ship is on a fishing expedition. But in being targeted unjustly on the basis of accusations that are seemingly assumptive in nature, Aryan isn’t alone. India has been awash with similar cases in recent years – from activist Umar Khalid to journalist Siddique Kappan jailed under charges that remain to be borne out – and at no time have their plights triggered a fallout on a scale that we are getting to witness over Shah Rukh’s son. We are being selective in our outrages and that does not augur well for a country supposedly based on the principal of equality for all.
Also read: Why Aryan Khan and Rhea drug cases are similar in so many ways
There is no denying that no family deserves to undergo what the Khans are experiencing. No drug was found in possession of Aryan and the strapping 23-year-old was also not subjected to a blood test. In absence of any direct proof, the case against him is based on conjectures. The NCB has levelled what seems to be wild allegations – that he was involved in a drug racket. The nature of the sweeping allegations sounds eerily similar to the ones that were slapped against actor Rhea Chakraborty last year. Little headway has been made in the case against Chakraborty though she was locked up in jail for nearly a month. There is every likelihood that Aryan’s case will follow the same trajectory. The Khans would live through hell before the headlines die out and the case meanders for years without any conclusive outcome.
There is enough reason for India to be aghast at the treatment of the Khans. But how come we never react in such a fashion when similar injustices are meted out to others? For that matter, many of us exulted when Chakraborty was thrown behind bars along with her brother. It didn’t matter that like Aryan, she too had parents who were as horrified by the travesty of justice as Shah Rukh and his wife Gauri are possibly now. That her father was an ex-serviceman cut no ice with a public baying for the scalp of someone who they felt epitomised evil in the aftermath of the death by suicide of her actor-boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput. Support for Khalid, or Kappan, or the very many others who have found themselves at the receiving end of state agencies increasingly accused of over-reach and abuse of power, have also been either limited or non-existent. The cases against them are far from watertight and smack of flight of fancy. The controversial slogan of ‘Bharat Tere Tukde Honge’ has been cited to buttress the charge against Khalid despite evidence that he never said so. Kappan – in jail for attempting to visit Hathras in the wake of the rape and murder of a Dalit girl – has been portrayed as communally divisive for his writings that predominantly focused on matters relating to Muslims.
But for the serious consequences, the charges brought against many of the accused persons languishing in various jails could have been considered laughable. A journalist in Manipur has been repeatedly jailed for his uncharitable social media posts against those in power. Several activists and academicians remain locked up for their alleged involvement in violence that erupted years ago in Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregoan despite ample suggestions that evidences were planted against them. Dr Kafeel Khan of Uttar Pradesh fared only marginally better. He has been finally freed after several spells in jail on flimsy charges.
Also read: Five things to know about Aryan Khan drugs case
Instances are galore of laws being abused in the country which Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of our foremost public intellectuals, describes as the empire of cruelty. However, the outrages they have triggered have never matched the one accompanying the travails of the Khans. That public anger never reached the critical mass have allowed the state agencies to over-reach repeatedly unchecked and unrepentant. So, when we pour out our angst at the circumstances that Khans find themselves in, spare a thought too for the parents of Khalid. Or, for the wife and children of Kappan. Minus the wealth and fame of Shah Rukh, they have had to suffer infinitely worse. For that matter, Kappan’s ailing mother died while he has been in jail. The father of Natasha Narwal – a student activist jailed for a considerable period of time over the tenuous case concerning the Delhi riots – died as well while the daughter remained behind bars. Though certain sections of the society felt deep revulsion, the country generally stayed nonchalant to the unfathomable tragedies. The selective outrage makes our nation small and serves to expose the inherent inequalities in the system.
(The writer is the former editor-in-chief of Outlook magazine)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)