Actor Gul Panag is part of a tiny minority of Bollywood personalities who have spoken about social issues, including the ongoing farmers’ protest, when many from her fraternity have been silent.
The former Miss India says she “sympathises” with celebrities who choose to stay silent because of fear of reprisals either from the Government or organised lobbies that have targeted celebrities in the past.
“I have sympathy (for them) and it is a personal choice to stand in support of something or stay silent as it is completely an individual decision,” Gul told The Tribune on Sunday.
“Traditionally, celebrities in India have never taken strong positions. In the UK in the US we have seen a lot of celebrities taking a very public position against what the government of the time was doing… be it the ‘Black Lives Matter, be it ‘Taking the Knee’. They took very symbolic positions. Here (why they don’t do it in India) is because of the fear of the institutions being weakened and then they not having the recourse to justice or just fear of being harassed,” Gul explained.
Celebrities, including cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar, current Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli and some from the film fraternity including Akshay Kumar and Karan Johar joined the ‘India against propaganda’ drive after pop icon Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg supported the farmers’ protest. The Indian celebrities copped a lot of flak for voicing their pro-government stance.
Gul, however, points to the fact that the only reason why some of the famous personalities who used to mock the previous government for fuel price rise are mum on the same issues today because they fear reprisals.
“This is a government that rules by fear. The previous government could be mocked as they weren’t afraid. But clearly, this government is hypersensitive to mockery and they rule by fear. So they have instilled fear and effectively taken away your ability to speak on things that you want to speak,” she said on behalf of her fraternity.
“The manner in which organise lobbies come after celebrities who have spoken out in the past is proof why they shouldn’t speak out. They have come after people like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and even Salman Khan. And the other very critical aspect is that something I learnt from my father (Lt Gen HS Panag). My father rose to one the highest position possible in the Indian Army. And he is a very outspoken person as he has always called spade a spade. And yet he was able to rise to the top how? Because he didn’t have skeletons in the closet. Point is that you can’t afford to have skeletons in your closet and then take on the powers that be,” she explained.
While she may have sympathies with the ones who are choosing to stay silent, Gul wants them to open up as it only emboldens perpetrators.
“Your silence may promote a culture and something that does affect you will be trampled upon in due course. The very act of not speaking up enables those who transgress. It enables the perpetrators of injustice,” she said.