Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has joined the rising chorus of protest against growing “intolerance” in India.
Khan said his filmmaker wife Kiran Rao had even suggested leaving the country.
Mr Khan told a journalism awards ceremony that he was “alarmed” over the rise in acts of intolerance in the “last six to eight months”.
Earlier this month fellow superstar Shah Rukh Khan also spoke out against what he called “extreme intolerance” in India.
A movement that began with writers returning state awards has spread to scientists, historians and filmmakers.
They have cited the killing of rationalists MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, as well as the lynching of a man over suspicions he consumed beef, as examples of rising intolerance in the country.
Actor, director and producer Khan told a ceremony organised by The Indian Express newspaper that a sense of “insecurity” and “fear” had been growing in India.
“(Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me,” Khan was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
“She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.”
Khan said creative people were returning their awards to express dissatisfaction or disappointment with the state of affairs.
“For creative people, to voice what they feel is important. A number of creative people – historians and scientists – have increasingly had a certain feeling that they feel they need to express. One of the ways of expressing their dissatisfaction or disappointment is to return awards.”
He said: “As long as you don’t resort to violence, all individuals have a right to protest and they can protest in any manner they feel is right”.
“This is certainly a way to protest for creative people.”
A spokesperson for India’s ruling BJP said Khan was entitled to his view, but India remained a tolerant country.
“You can’t take the exception to be the rule. You can’t be alarmist over stray incidents. Let us not define our country based on that,” Nalin Kohli told the NDTV news channel.
Khan’s comments have sharply divided sentiment on social media, with so many people tweeting on his comments that #AamirKhan was the top Twitter trend in India.
Bollywood actor and director Anupam Kher, who has been extremely vocal in his opposition to artists protesting intolerance, was quick to attack Khan’s statement in a series of tweets.
Dear @aamir_khan. Did you ask Kiran which country would she like to move out to? Did you tell her that this country has made you AAMIR KHAN.
Dear @aamir_khan. When did ‘Incredible India’ become ‘Intolerant India’ for you? Only in the last 7-8 months? #AtithiDevoBhavah
A BJP state legislator said Khan had “hurt the sentiments” of millions of Indians and called on him to apologise.
Much of the sentiment on Twitter was against the actor with many calling him “ungrateful” and “hypocritical” while others dared him to move to a more tolerant country.
However not all the tweets attacked Khan.
I am not sure whether #AamirKhan or SRK said India is now intolerant. But we can see intolerance towards them for expressing their opinions
Aamir Khan is perfectly justified in his views and those who are trashing him are not respecting the sensibilities of this country.
The Indian government has dismissed the allegations of rising acts of intolerance.
India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh told those returning awards to “give suggestions instead of returning awards” and maintained that the incidents being cited were law and order issues, that did not necessarily point to intolerance.