Actor Gul Panag is a part of a tiny minority of celebs who have spoken about social issues, including farmers’ protest, when many from her fraternity have remained silent.
The former Miss India says she ‘sympathises’ with celebrities who choose to stay silent because of the fear of reprisals either from the government or their 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. It is completely an individual decision,” Gul told The Tribune on Sunday.
“Traditionally, celebrities in India have never taken strong positions. In the UK and US, we have seen many 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 symbolic positions. Why they don’t do it in India is because of the fear of the institutions being weakened or just the fear of being harassed,” Gul said.
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 drew 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 rises are mum on the same issue today because they fear reprisals.
“This is a government that rules by fear. The previous government could be mocked at 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. “The manner in which organised lobbies come after celebrities who speak out is the reason why they don’t speak out. They have come after people like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. And the other very critical aspect is that something I learnt from my father (Lt Gen HS Panag). My father has always called a spade a spade. And yet, he was able to rise to the top. How? Because he didn’t have skeletons in his closet. You can’t afford to have skeletons in your closet and then take on the powers that be,” she said.