Published: 14th January 2020
There is so much hate among the masses because there are no jobs: Khushbu Sundar
Khushbu Sundar speaks about her experience with religious trolling and sexism within politics and why it has worsened within the past 6 years
On Twitter, actor-politician Khushbu Sundar goes by her given name, Nakhat Khan. It was a few years ago when a few BJP followers brought up the name that she decided to beat them to it. “I changed it because I had to tell them that they were 47 years late! I have been Nakhat Khan and the world knows about it,” she says. Over the years, her greatest concern has been this growing sentiment that has been trying to rake up differences between people. We spoke to the National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress about the matter of identity, politics and resistance. Excerpts:
How do you believe the country has changed in the past few years?
When we speak about New India, I feel like we are going back to the Stone Age. Nobody bothered about which religion I follow or where I come from before the BJP came to power. I voice my opinion democratically because I am from the Congress Party and it is the duty of the opposition to speak up. I speak in my capacity as a citizen of this country. Most of the time, I suddenly find that people are trying to figure out that my name is Nakhat Khan and they troll me asking me to go back to Pakistan. Is Pakistan the only country where Muslims live? I have been here all my life, why has divide come up now? When somebody like me is on such a platform where people know me and yet I'm still being questioned, I wonder what it is like for other Indians. They say that I married a Hindu because I wanted to escape from the idea of my identity of being a Muslim. I’ve never seen this before. I was in the film industry when the UPA was in power and even when the BJP was in power, but I have never seen this. The India we see today is not horizontal, we are being divided vertically. This makes a huge difference because you’re not talking about equality. You want to put one religion right at the top.
Why do you believe that a resistance is brewing across the country?
When you keep telling the minorities of a nation that they are inferior to you and push them against a corner, they naturally want to retaliate. And the minute you do this, you are termed an anti-national and a terrorist. It is not only a divide between Hindus and Muslims but within the communities themselves. We have divided people over our political gains and over the past few years, we have pushed them to the edge. You cite cases such as triple talaq and try to pretend that you are trying to serve the minorities, but these cases have been pending in the judiciary for many years. We need to understand that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the country. Whether people have voted for you or not, you have a responsibility towards them. This includes every community, tribe and student.
FACE FORWARD: Khushbu is the national spokesperson for the INC
Deepika Padukone is now being targetted for openly supporting protesters at JNU. As an artist yourself, do you believe in the power that an artist can wield?
Artists have great power. They may not be able to bring in the change itself, that’s up to the people as a whole, but they can tip the start of a movement. When the artist does not speak, it is because they don’t have a spine, ordinary people have so much more to lose. They are going to label you if you stand with Kanhaiya Kumar or Aishe Ghosh. If you say Deepika Padukone did this for publicity, knowing very well that there will be a section of the ruling government’s crowd who will give you hell and boycott you for making that choice, you are wrong. Deepika has seen this before when she was attacked for Padmavat by so-called ‘saviours’ of Hinduism who warned to cut off her head. She’s not going to risk it for publicity. She has done something she believes in and that takes courage.
You’ve been the victim of sexist comments multiple times. Do you believe that it has gotten better over the past years?
It has actually become worse for women. You are openly called prostitute or sex-worker, especially actors. The kind of language that even educated people use is very surprising. You can’t change people, that is what they have become in this social climate. There is so much negativity and venom that has been infused in people’s blood over a period of 6 years. People question me every day asking me how many husbands I’ve had, who my children’s fathers are. I say that you can’t help it. There is so much hate among the masses because there are no jobs, the economy is at its worst and what’s more to say than that the idle mind is the devil’s workshop? All they know is to troll. In fact, the BJP’s IT cell has put a price on this hate with ₹2 rupees per troll!
How do you shield your own family from this hate?
My kids are very independent. That is the kind of household I have. My brothers and I married into different religions and that has never been an issue with us. I say that ours is a pan-Indian house. We celebrate every possible religion. We do not tell our children what they should believe either, they just need to follow the rules of the house. They just think of themselves as Indians. They see how I am at home and how my husband treats women and that is really what sets an example for them.
The Congress has received criticism for the fact that party leaders have been ignorant to allegations of dynastic politics. How do you respond to this?
I do not understand this talk about dynastic politics. What we are doing is choosing a leader for the party and that is simply within the party. It has nothing to do with the country. Choosing a Prime Minister is for the people to decide. Just because we choose someone as the President of the party, it does not mean that they rule the party. Just because the top two leaders from the BJP are not there by nepotism, it does not mean that it doesn’t exist within the party.
Do you believe that the student protests will succeed?
Amit Shah has said that they are not going to back down from the CAA. But what we need to understand is that it is not a political party that is clamping back. It is the students of this country, the literates and the illiterates who are fighting back. This is a people’s movement, it is not for the Congress to own. In fact, I would be proud if the opposition believes that we have the power to organise a protest of this scale.