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When Bollywood Stars Stand Up For Black Lives, While Issues At Home Get Missed…

Posted: June 5, 2020

Many Bollywood celebrities spoke up against the killing of George Floyd in the US. However, why are they reluctant to take on social causes within India?

Amid a global pandemic, we have come to know some of the extremes of human behaviour. And in particular of the hate and abuse – both right outside our doorsteps as well as thousands of miles away from us. I was shocked and unsettled by the grim reality of our headlines, especially in the wake of the global pandemic and the death of George Floyd. 

George Floyd was a black man who was killed in Minneapolis as he was pinned down by white cops where he choked and gasped for breath. His last words, “I can’t breathe” have now become a rallying cry.

I remember feeling frozen and numb as I read a news about his cause of death, ‘cardiopulmonary arrest’ caused by asphyxia due to ‘neck compression.’

Many South Asians are speaking up

This has catalysed a surge in the Black Lives Matter movement, with millions taking to the streets during the COVID-19 Pandemic. And people are not only protesting in the United States, but also globally. Right from London to Paris and even Berlin, people have taken to the streets to condemn the death of George Floyd. 

I believe social media has become one of the biggest vehicles for the movement over the past few days. However, there is much room for introspection and speculation when we understand the course our social discourse has taken. 

On one hand, the #Southasiansforblacklives is gaining traction and uniting the south Asian diaspora with the black lives matter movement. On the other, I believe many hypocritical patterns like the appropriation of black culture are finally being called out. Plenty of individuals and personalities have come together to pledge their support for the movement. People are beginning to have those hard conversations at home and questioning some of the many racist and classist ideals. 

And what about Bollywood?

This mass outcry for freedom, equality and justice, also comes at a time when our world is divided and social discourse is immensely polarising. When we consider Bollywood celebrities in particular, I believe that things don’t seem to line up. 

I stumbled upon a post by Buzzfeed India on how George Floyd’s death reveals the double standards we possess while talking about issues. Issues like communal riots, the co-opting of Hindutva for political gains, political violence and the anti-CAA protests were largely ignored by the higher echelons of society. But their sudden and timely commitment to social issues does pose a few questions. 

Bollywood’s underlying hypocrisy comes to light when you think of how they unleash their activism from the comfort of their own homes with extensive PR teams to cushion their fall. At the same they choose to be silent on the matters raging in their homes.

Are some of these messages actual genuine expressions of solidarity? Or mere means to garner more points for social awareness and so-called ‘wokeness’? 

For instance, Priyanka Chopra, despite her silence about many social and political issues in India (like the anti-CAA protests) posted George Floyd’s dying words, “Stop I can’t breathe,” accompanied with a caption, “George, I am praying for your family.” Priyanka Chopra’s advocacy comes as quite a shock especially after her silence over other issues. 

I realised many even took to Twitter to discuss a scene in Fashion. Here, Priyanka Chopra’s character wakes up next to a black man she had slept with when she was at her ‘lowest point.’ This scene now reeks of entrenched racism. 

Thoughts begin with actions

Many have also raised the criticism that celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Sonam Kapoor speak about violence against black lives and how ‘silence implies complicity.’ But they also have a long history of supporting skin whitening and fairness creams creams that contribute to racist notions like colourism. The same was said when Disha Patani put up a post about the issue that read ‘all colours are beautiful,’ when she still promotes what people called ‘spotless fairness.’

These instances of selective activism only serve as yet another means of gaslighting and shoving existing problems in India under the rug. Meanwhile, we fail to acknowledge the entrenched nature of discrimination in our quotidian lives. This may be yet another instance of virtue signalling to promote or depict a certain ‘universal’ brand on social media. One where being an advocate for social issues may cement a specific image. So many celebrities have resorted to this practice time and time again, and I have noticed these patterns only seem to repeat now. 

Time we owned up to it?

Abhay Deol also snapped back at celebrities who ignored and glossed over social injustices in India but expressed their support for the BLM movement. “Migrant lives matter, poor lives matter, minority lives matter,’’ he said. He also brought up how calling out systemic racism in your ‘own backyard’ was the most constructive way to support the BLM movement. 

Activists, pressure groups journalists are risking a lot to start some of these conversations that matter to us and our society. And it becomes even more necessary for a celebrity with the clout and privilege to back these movements and lend their support. Yet, I noticed that many seem to shy away for fear of incurring the wrath of right-wing trolls or government rhetoric. 

When one chooses to express or showcase a political opinion of view, it becomes imperative that they take charge and accountability. But also to own up and live up to the words that they espouse. 

At this time, I believe that being political is an important commitment and right. Embrace it. Use it well. 

Picture credits: ABC Series Quantico and CNBC TV

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Shivani is currently an undergraduate political science student who is passionate about human rights and

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