New Delhi, January 10 (Al Jazeera): A top Bollywood actress is being praised for visiting an elite Indian university where students were protesting against an attack on them by masked suspects with alleged links to a student group backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And there is crticism that the Big Khans – Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir – have stayed away apparently fearing a backlash against their film careers.
Deepika Padukone, 34, on Tuesday visited New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where alleged members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) brutally assaulted dozens of students and teachers with sticks, sledgehammers and rocks on Sunday.
The violence in JNU followed a public meeting organised by the university’s teachers association in connection with a rise in hostel charges for students announced weeks ago.
Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU students’ union who was seriously wounded in the attack, was present among the students when Padukone joined their protest.
Indian media reports said Padukone hugged Ghosh and stayed with the JNU students for about 15 minutes, but only had a brief chat with the student leader and did not address the crowd.
Ghosh, who was attacked by masked assailants on Sunday night, is among 20 students named in the first information report (FIR or police complaint) of the Delhi police on Tuesday.
Photos and videos on social media showed Padukone wearing a black outfit and standing behind a makeshift stage, while former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar addressed the gathering.
Kanhaiya Kumar tweeted: More power to you @deepikapadukone and thank you for your solidarity and support. You might be abused or trolled today, but history will remember you for your courage and standing by the idea of India.
According to The Wire website, after Padukone left, Ghosh in her address to the crowd said: “When you are in a position, you should speak up.”
Padukone, who was in New Delhi for the promotion of her next film, Chhapaak, scheduled to release this Friday, is the biggest Bollywood star to express her solidarity with the JNU students.
On Monday night, nearly a dozen filmmakers and actors demonstrated along with hundreds of people in Mumbai against the attack on the university.
“I feel proud that we are not scared. I think to be able to express ourselves, I think the fact we are thinking about this and about the future of our country,” Padukone told NDTV news channel on Monday.
“It is nice to see people are coming out on the streets to voice this and express [themselves]. Because if we want to see change, this is very important.”
Padukone’s solidarity with the JNU students triggered #ISupportDeepika and #boycottchhapaak as the top two trends on Indian Twitter on Tuesday evening.
As part of a film industry where its top stars have been slammed for their silence on contentious political issues, many lauded the 34-year-old actress.
“Thank you @deepikapadukone for standing up for students and youth against fascist bullies. The times they are a changing!” tweeted former JNU student Umar Khalid as he urged India’s top Muslim actors to speak out.
Bollywood’s top Muslim stars – Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan – have been questioned for their silence on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act passed by India’s parliament last month.
Critics say the law violates India’s secular constitution and is anti-Muslim. At least 27 people have been killed in nationwide protests against the law.
But the supporters of the BJP have called for a boycott of Padukone’s next film, accusing her of supporting the “anti-national” students of JNU.
In 2017, Padukone was attacked for starring in a historical drama, Padmaavat, with a BJP leader putting a bounty of $1.5m on the heads of the actress and the film’s director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.