Bollywood actress, social activist and former MP in the Rajya Sabha, Shabana Azmi has caused a storm in political circles by attributing her problems in buying a house in Mumbai to discrimination against Muslims. “If Shabana and Javed Akhtar cannot find a house in the most cosmopolitan city you can imagine what must be happening with the ordinary Muslims elsewhere,” she said, “I have read a report about Saif (Ali Khan) being denied a house.” She was speaking to CNN-IBN.
Shabana has fought all her life for communal harmony and against extremism so how does she react to the negative stereotypes of Islam propagated in the last few years? “With exasperation, anger, and bewilderment,” she says, “The fact is that Islam is not a monolith. It resides in more than 53 countries in the world and it takes on the culture of the country in which it resides. So it’s moderate in some, liberal in others, and extremist in the rest… You know there’s a whole range of Islam that’s available according to culture.”
What does she think of the status of Muslims in India today? “I think that the Indian Muslim is in a safer place because the Indian Muslim has a stake and a space in India’s democracy. It’s a very huge thing that we are a part of the democracy,” she explains, “An Indian Muslim can aspire to become a Shah Rukh Khan, can aspire to become an Irfan Pathan or even the President of India. And that makes the Muslim here far more hopeful and far less in despair than in any other part of the world.”
Even so, does she believe that Indian Muslims are, in general, treated unfairly by politicians? “I think there is not enough understanding of the fact that in a democracy the manner in which you treat the security of the minority must be a very important part for that democracy to be a success,” she says.
After Indonesia and Pakistan, India has the world’s third biggest Muslim population with 151 million people or 14% of the population.
M Venkaiah Naidu of the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed she was being unfair and that Muslims had achieved many high positions in Indian society including President, Supreme Court Justices, Indian cricket captain and of course the Khans who ruled Bollywood.
Meanwhile, Shabana has announced plans to appear alongside Boman Irani in a movie adaptation of Hamlet.
Shabana is a psychology graduate and a National Film Award winner. Amongst her most famous movies are Deepa Mehta’s Fire and she recently starred in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.