Bollywood and Society
We love, eat and pray Bollywood. Celebrities are celebrated beyond boundaries. Bollywood actors and actresses capture huge space of mind and they influence us the audience beyond the space confined by the cinema-hall walls. We carry stars in our lives and at times live stars’ reel lives in our own real lives. So, it becomes pertinent that we discuss their influence that ruptures the society’s discourses and the society at large. Unfortunately, Bollywood celebrities have faced a lot of criticism for their silences and mute performances when they were required to go beyond the call of their duty. This is not quite true in other countries in the spaces of art and culture, especially in Hollywood. A celebrity’s advocacy for social causes is a norm and it reflects the maturity of the society at large.
George Clooney launched Enough Project; Akon, the Lighting Africa; and Meryl Streep, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), for instance. Meryl Streep’s passionate speech at a fundraising gala for HRC, a national LGBT group at Golden Globes award ceremony, needs a special mention. She had not only won the Golden Globe award but also million hearts for heartfelt criticism of Donald Trump.
A celebrity’s lack of interest in social causes and larger politics could be a matter of debate, yet we can safely posit that Indian celebrities have selfishly received from society and have failed to give back in return.
(Various shades of the superstar) Source: @TheDilipKumar (official Twitter handle of Dilip Saheb)
Dilip Kumar: An exception
Was this always the case? I am not sure, but there comes to my mind an exception to this general rule. And this exception is the exceptionally talented superstar and most loved tragedy king of all times, the first Khan among the Khans, Dilip Kumar aka Yusuf Khan. Very few people know that Dilip Saheb has participated extensively in the struggles of marginalized among the Muslim community, despite coming from an upper caste and having achieved an elite status among the elites of the country. This is quite rare and an exceptional feat. The thespian has spent a substantial time of his late working life off the stage, participating with activists of All India Muslim OBC Organization (AIMOBCO) for the rights of Pasmandas in Maharashtra.
To find the trails of this unknown facet of Dilip Saheb’s life, I enquired with his comrade in arms, Vilas Sonawane, social activist and founder of AIMOBCO, Hassan Kamal, a popular lyricist and songwriter of Bollywood, and Shabbir Ansari, president of AIMOBCO, to walk me through the memory lane, and they were kind enough to give me company.
(Islam Gymkhana, where the founder of AIMOBCO, Vilasrao Sonwane, met Dilip Saheb for the first time) Source: Md Khursheed Akbar
It was Islam Gymkhana in Mumbai where Vilas Bhai met Dilip Saheb for the first time. After meeting Dilip Saheb, Vilas Bhai informed him about his organization and its vision of fighting for the cause of Pasmanda Muslims. Dilip Saheb, being a very socially aware and liberal person, gave a patient ear to Vilas Bhai. ‘At that time Dilip Saheb was very active in supporting social causes’, Hassan Kamal informed me, ‘If an issue related to Indian Army came to his knowledge, or if he heard of any natural calamity like floods etc., he used to step out of his home and contributed as much as he could. Dilip saheb ka manna tha ki koi bhi filmi hasti agar social issues mein society ke saath shamil nahi hoti to log use screen se utarte hi bhula denge. Ye sirf social-activism hai jo use zinda rakhega”. [Dilip Saheb believed that if a film star does not indulge in the issues of society, people will forget him as soon as his career ends]
Dilip Kumar Impact
When Vilas Bhai and Shabbir Ansari told Dilip Saheb about Mandal Commission report and its application on Pasmanda Muslims and that about 85% of Muslims are Pasmanda and could be benefitted by the AIMOBCO movement. Dilip Saheb shared a similar view and remarked that the balance 15% do not even need a support of reservation, as they are traditionally quite well off. Dilip Saheb also promised Vilas Bhai that he will do whatever is needed for the movement. However, what he did was beyond everyone’s expectations.
Soon Dilip Saheb officially joined AIMOBCO in 1990 and became actively associated with organization activities on almost a daily basis. Dilip Saheb participated in more than 100 public meetings all over India. He addressed those public meetings with Vilas Bhai, Shabbir Ansari, and Hassan Kamal. His public rallies in Aurangabad and Lucknow became the major key-events that shook the politics. His celebrity status not only attracted a large crowd but also jolted the political class to wake up to the demands of people.
(Dilip Saheb at a meeting of AIMOBCO at Haj House, Mumbai) Source: Shabbir Ansari
In all public meetings, Dilip Saheb insisted that reservation should not be seen as a religious issue, in case of Pasmandas, but rather as a social means that is required for the upliftment of this socially and educationally backward community, which simply happens to be Muslims. He stressed that Pasmandas have suffered from caste marginalization. Due to the discriminatory categorization into occupational biradaries, they are restricted in economic mobility and social development. Therefore, reservation is a constitutional process and the marginalized communities should use the opportunity for social-economic upliftment. Dilip Saheb helped people to get organized, made them understand the idea of reservation, and tried to bring people to organize and agitate from a common platform. He became a medium to spread the voices that were unheard till then.
(Ram Vilas Paswan, Shabbir Ansari and Dilip Saheb, left to right) Source: Shabbir Ansari
Although AIMOBCO was working for the issues of Pasmandas since 1978, Dilip Saheb’s association became a shot in the arm for the movement. The government was forced to listen to the demands of millions of voices rallying behind the organization. Consequently, the government of Maharashtra had to issue a Government Order on 07/12/1994 regarding the inclusion of the socially and educationally backward Muslims in the list of OBCs. The State Government issued almost 57 circulars and orders in this regard. This was one of the biggest achievements of Pasmanda movement of that time.
Transcending the privilege
What remains un-discussed in this whole story is Dilip Saheb’s social location and his own journey. The question that arises now is, how did a Pathan from Zamindar background become an activist for Pasmanda. Something that is unprecedented. Somehow, I was still not satisfied with the explanation that it was Dilip Kumar’s charitable nature that was the reason behind his extraordinary participation in this movement.
So, I went back to Shabbir Ansari with these questions again. Ansari told me various events that occurred in Dilip Saheb’s life that sensitized him towards indulging in Pasmanda movement. Shabbir Bhai told that although Dilip Saheb was himself quite socially aware but initially he too was hesitant about caste question in Muslim society. However, with time he became a stalwart of this social justice movement in Maharashtra.
(Dilip Saheb addressing a rally in support of candidate of AIMOBCO) Souce: Shabbir Ansari
Shabbir bhai narrated one incident which might have played an important role in sensitizing Dilip Saheb towards caste and its evil nature. Dilip Saheb used to play football in his childhood days. Among many of his friends, there was one boy who belonged to Dalit community, who eventually became the captain of the football team. When he became captain, he invited all players to dinner at his home. It was only Dilip Saheb who reached his home for dinner, and rest of his teammates did not attend the dinner. When Dilip Saheb asked about their absence, the boy said, “mai neech jaat ka hun, wo log mere ghar nahi aate aur hamare yahan khana nahi khate.” [I belong to a low caste community; they neither come to our place nor eat food with us]. Dilip Saheb was startled after listening to this.
(Dilip Saheb with Shabbir Ansari) Source: Khalid Anis Ansari
One more incident that might have impacted Dilip Saheb was when some students from Pasmanda community in Maharashtra sought financial help from his organization. These were six bright Pasmanda students, who were financially very weak. Shabbir bhai told Dilip Kumar that other backward communities are taking benefit of reservation schemes and if Pasmanda too received this benefit, they would be able to become doctors and engineers. After listening this Dilip Saheb was so attracted by this idea that he paid the donation of all the six students. It was only after this incident that Dilip Kumar joined the organization officially. In fact, due to the active participation of Dilip Saheb for Pasmanda reservation, he received a lot of criticism and even fatwa from ulemas and elite Muslims, despite this activism helping the poor students get an education. Dilip Saheb often talked about his meetings with Baba Saheb Ambedkar and how his meetings opened him towards the question of caste and caste discrimination.
(Crowded rally as addressed by Dilip Saheb) Source: Shabbir Ansari
Coming from an upper-caste elite background and becoming an activist for Pasmanda rights must have been some journey. Whether the impact of his meetings with Baba Saheb, or the experience of realizing the situation of Dalits and Pasmandas, or his own experiences of a displaced childhood, it is tough to pick a point in time when he was truly changed. Yet, post-hoc, we can say that he had transcended his own caste privileges forever. Dilip Saheb never sought any fame nor did use his activism as a PR exercise for his career, as is usually the case in Bollywood. The fact that very few people of current generation know about his critical role in Pasmanda movement is the biggest evidence: that he never tried to appropriate the movement; and that he always pushed ahead the leaders of the movement ahead instead of himself. As Shabbir Ansari told me that Dilip Saheb now identifies himself as a baghbaan (Maali). He believed that since his father was a fruit-merchant, it makes him a baghbaan too.
Dilip Saheb will always be a baghbaan of Pasmanda movement. A baghbaan, who nurtures the orchard and the fruits are enjoyed by others. I wish the thespian a healthy and a long life.
Acknowledgements: I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to my colleagues, Prof. Shafiullah Anis and Prof. Khalid Anis Ansari, for valuable discussions while writing this piece.
Abhijit Anand is Assist Professor at Glocal Law School, Glocal University Saharanpur.