You are being branded an anti-national by right wing activists because of your old photo with Umar Khalid, a student of JNU who has been accused of sedition. The photo is making rounds on Whatsapp groups and social media. How would you react to this?
I have become used to all kinds of threats and criticisms levelled against me for supporting the cause of Dalits and students for the last several years. I do not know Umar personally and I met him through a lawyer friend of mine last year while I was in Nagpur to attend an event. We had a great discussion about politics, society and its issues at large. I had forgotten about this photo until someone just took it from my Facebook wall and started circulating it. They said I was a traitor and an anti-national even before seeing my work and reading my views.
Do these threats scare you?
Of course not. I am a free thinking individual and have a right to express my views. Especially after being acclaimed as an actor, the threats have become less direct. They know that the people who have liked my work are now with me and any drastic threats would only tarnish the image of those who are attacking my free speech.
How do you look at the entire JNU issue?
Things are very simple. Kanhaiya, Umar and several others, who worship the ideals of this constitution and who dream of a better society, were talking against the hanging of Afzal Guru. This was misinterpreted by those who chose to doctor some videos for their own nationalist agenda. The ideals of liberty and equality that Babasaheb had envisioned through our constitution are all gone. Muslims and Dalits are being lynched, their food practices are being challenged and now their intellectual agency is also being questioned across major universities in the country. As an activist and an artist, the situation is really depressing.
Some of the messages sent to you were really derogatory, including the ones that termed you a potential terrorist.
The kind of lies that these people are peddling against me only amuse me. First, some local newspapers carried some reports against me. Then, they said that I among those who hate the nation and now, they are saying I am a potential terrorist.
There was a message which claimed that I lost my left hand thumb while making a bomb. Like really? I lost my finger way back in 1978 when I was an industrial worker. But such messages only prove how ridiculous things and people can get. How can we forget Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Pansare, who for their entire life, worked to remove this irrationality and narrow-minded approach of the people.
Why have you not gone to the police?
The state machinery has unfortunately become a mere puppet in the hands of politicians. There is a strong nexus between all the politicians and other organs that we look up to for maintaining law and order. I know that they are powerful people and merely registering a complaint is not going to help. My speech and my cause are my only powerful protests.
Are you planning to join the student protests across universities?
I am already travelling to several universities in the state. I was scheduled to talk to the JNU students in a panel discussion on 22nd February. However, my train got cancelled due to the Jat agitation in Haryana. But, the fight shall continue till our voices are heard.
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