"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

World needs to recognize Kareena Kapoor Khan as Ambassador of Peace Featured

Gurpreet Singh  

What could be a better coincidence than her birthday falling on the International Day of Peace?  

Especially when a Bollywood superstar has to her credit playing three amazing roles that were akin to peacemaking between India and Pakistan, this becomes even more important.  

Kareena Kapoor Khan turned 40 on Monday, September 21, which has been declared as International Day of Peace by the United Nations.  

As this year marks her 20 years in Indian cinema, it is worth remembering her debut in Refugee, in which she played Nazneen, a stateless Bihari Muslim woman.  

Nazneen, whose family is seeking a permanent home in Pakistan, has left Bangladesh. She falls in love with refugee Ahmed, who is involved in human trafficking and helps her and her parents in crossing the Indo-Pak border illegally to enter Pakistan.  

As a sider, the film reveals the constant tension between India and Pakistan, which were divided on religious lines in 1947. This resulted in large scale Hindu-Muslim riots, forcing Muslims to migrate to Muslim-dominated Pakistan, and Hindus to Hindu-dominated India. Originally from Bihar, India, Nazneen’s family migrates to East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. They are forced to flee for the second time due to fear of persecution from Bengalis.  

Indo-Pak relations have never been stable. The two countries have fought two major wars, including one in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The Indian government tried to take full advantage of the Bangladeshi insurgency, and was partly instrumental behind its separation from Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan is taking advantage of the militant movement in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir region of India, which has been going through an armed struggle for the right to self-determination. Both countries continue to accuse each other of proxy war and aiding and abetting subversive activities within their territories from across the border.     

One thing can be counted as a legacy of Refugee - Nazneen’s role as a broker of peace between the two hostile neighbours.  

Refugee goes beyond the subject of Bihari Muslims, and highlights how infiltration by Pakistan-trained terrorists in India continues, while Indian Muslim patriots, despite being involved in human trafficking, resist any attempt by Pakistani Islamic extremists to launch Jihad on the Indian soil.   

The film ends on a happy note, with Nazneen giving birth to a child on the no man’s land. She therefore becomes a symbol of peace between the warring nations. This happens on the intervening night of August 14-15, when the two countries celebrate their independence from the British in 1947.  

The lyrics of a popular song in the film screened on Kareena carry a special meaning for those who want the two countries to end animosity and make a new beginning. The verses go: “Panchi, Nadiyaa, Pawan Ke Jhonke, Koi Sarhad Naa Inhe Roke, Sarhaden Insaanon Ke Liye Hain, Bhala Meine Aur Tumne Kya Paaya Insaan Hoke?” (No border can ever stop the birds, river or the wind, except humans. What have we achieved then by being human beings?). Such messaging questions the necessity of borders and false lines, and Kareena did her part very well.  

This wasn’t the only time she played as a sort of peace ambassador on the screen. Similar opportunities came years later as she grew up into a seasoned actor.     

Twelve years after Refugee, Kareena performed as Iram Parveen Bilal, a British-Pakistani spy in Agent Vinod, an unusual thriller which had an important theme of how the two countries need to unite and fight against those involved in global terrorism and the arms industry.  

Her husband Saif Ali Khan, who played the title role, was her co-star.   

Iram helps Vinod in his mission against Pakistani terrorists, and lays down her life while doing so. The story ends with a climax about how those engaged in the international arms industry are precipitating terrorism and conflicts in the garb of philanthropy, and how the good people on either side of Indo-Pak border sincerely want to change this and continue to pay the price.  

Iram, the real hero of the film, dies in the line of duty towards humanity and not just one side or the other. She gives her life for the bigger cause of opposing the arms race and weapons of mass destruction, which can affect human life both in India and Pakistan.     

Most remarkable was her role as Rasika, a Hindu woman in Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), who comes to the rescue of a Pakistani Muslim girl separated from her mother.   

The story goes like this.  

A Pakistani mother comes to India with her daughter, who has a speech disability. She visits a famous shrine in Delhi to seek blessings for her child. On way back home, the girl accidentally gets down from the train parked on the railway platform and gets separated from her mother. While the train to Pakistan leaves without the child, she ends up reaching Kurukshetra on a freight train. She is discovered by Rasika’s lover Pawan Kumar, who tries to find her parents, but couldn’t. One day she is able to convey to him through gestures that she is from Pakistan. But she cannot convey the exact whereabouts of her family and the Pakistani embassy officials fail to provide any help.    

Rasika’s orthodox Hindu parents want to get rid of her, but Rasika encourages Pawan to do the right thing and not give up until the child is returned to her parents. Pawan succeeds in taking the girl back to Pakistan illegally, putting his life in danger.   

Rasika emerges as a strong advocate for a helpless child from a different community, in a highly polarized environment in which Hindu fanatics harbour hostile attitude toward Muslims and Pakistan. She tells Pawan that she respects him only because he is different from others, and expects him to help the child irrespective of her religious background.  

Rasika is definitely much more vocal and stronger than Nazneen and Iram, and gives hope for a better future in the South Asian region.  

But doing such roles brings many challenges. 

She has been repeatedly attacked on social media by supporters of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government led by Narendra Modi. Ever since he became Prime Minister of the world’s so called largest democracy in 2014, the attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims, have grown. Since such movies do not fit into their agenda, their outrage is not unexpected, but they have repeatedly mocked her for marrying a Muslim actor, adopting Khan as her last name, and naming her son as Taimur.  

Kareena married Saif in 2012 and gave birth to Taimur in 2016.  

Although it was a registered marriage, supporters of the Hindu Right continue to accuse Saif of luring her and converting her to Islam. This is despite the fact that Saif does not support conversion, and allows Kareena to keep her Hindu last name of Kapoor alongside Khan. So much so, the couple was harassed for naming their child as Taimur, who was said to be a tyrant Muslim invader who conquered India and tormented Hindus. Even though Kareena clarified that she wanted to name her son Taimur, which means "iron", solely because of macho appeal of the word, they are not letting it go, whatever may be the trigger of shameless attempts to bracket them with Pakistan.  

Critics have conveniently ignored how beautifully Kareena is grooming her child to respect both religions equally. Only recently she posted on Instagram pictures of lego Ganesha - the Elephant god that is highly revered by Hindus - made by Taimur. But what can one expect from hate mongers?   

In a post 9/11 environment, when Islamophobia has blinded most of the world under right wing leaders like Modi and Trump, Kareena gives us hope both through her acting and actions in real life. 

 

*** 

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Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2020 18:38
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