Sultan M Hali
HINDU extremists in India have risen in protest against the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic period drama Padmavati, and are threatening to burn theatres even before the film’s release, which was scheduled for 1st December 2017. Padmavati is based on the epic poem Padmavat (1540) by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The film features renowned Indian actress Deepika Padukone in the title role as Rani Padmavati, alongside Shahid Kapoor as Maharwawal Ratan Singh and Ranveer Singh as Sultan Alauddin Khilji.
According to Padmavat, Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, laid siege to Chittor Fort motivated by his desire to capture Queen Padmavati, the beautiful wife of King Ratan Sen (also known as Ratan Singh), the Rajput ruler of Mewar. After Khilji defeated Ratan Sen and successfully besieged his capital Chittor, Padmavati committed jauhar (the Hindu custom of self-immolation) to protect her honour from the Muslim ruler. Although Ratan Sen (identified with Ratnasimha) and Alauddin Khilji are actual historical figures, Padmavati’s existence is not historically proven. Khilji did attack Chittor in 1303 and conquered the fort, but he did not wish to capture Ratnasimha’s wife. Historians of Khilji’s period did not make any reference to a “Queen” of Chittor while mentioning the conquest of the fort. The poem Padmavat ends with Jayasi’s own words, “I have made up the story and related it.”
Despite it being based on fiction, Hindu extremists have reacted violently and taken India by storm. The Rajput fringe group Karni Sena threatened to violently assault and mutilate the film’s heroine, Padukone. Bharat Kshatriya Samaj, another caste organization, made death threats against the producer Bhansali and Padukone, putting an Indian Rupees 5 Crore (US $ 780,000) bounty on their heads. The Haryana BJP’s media chief Suraj Pal Amu put a Rupees 10 crore (US$1.6 million) bounty on the heads of both Padokone and Bhansali. Amu also made threats against Ranveer Singh, who plays the Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji, threatening to break Singh’s legs.
On November 24, 2017, a dead body was found hanging in Nahargarh Fort, with a sentence scribbled on a nearby rock wall stating in Hindi, “Padmavati ka virodh” (in opposition to Padmavati). The graffiti also included a warning, “We don’t just burn effigies, we hang them.” Indian TV Channel NDTV machinated to lay the blame on Indian Muslims, quoting the police that the death, initially thought to have been committed against the release of Padmavati, was later found to have been an attempt, by appearing to be a murder committed by Muslims in support of Padmavati, to incite communal riots between Hindus and Muslims.
Hindu extremists appearing on Indian TV Channels have brazenly brandished unsheathed swords, live on air uttering profanities against the film’s cast and producer. In November 2017, Raj K. Purohit, an Indian politician and senior BJP member, called for the film to be banned. He stated: “How can a Rajput queen be shown dancing and without ghoonghat? It is against Rajput culture and pride. No community will be able to tolerate it. Meanwhile BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has added a totally new dimension to the controversy over the movie Padmavati by saying that it was funded from Dubai and is a part of an international conspiracy to defame Hindus. He spins a farfetched conspiracy theory that certain influential Muslims in Dubai are plotting to portray Muslim kings as heroes and want to depict Hindu women seeking amorous relationship with the Muslim kings.
The film’s producer Bhansali responded to the threats by reiterating that rumours of a romantic dream sequence between Padmini and Khilji were false, and that the film contains no such scene. BBC News stated that Bhansali’s attempt to placate those who want the film to be banned has “fallen on deaf ears among those who want to ‘protect the honour’ of a fictitious queen. To placate the protesters, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has sent the film back to its makers quoting “technical reasons”, which is a farce. Central Board of Film Certification member Arjun Gupta petitioned the Home Minister to put Bhansali on trial for treason. Ironically, the Hindu extremists are protesting violently to protect the “honour” of a fictitious Hindu Queen, remaining oblivious to the alarming rate of rape of Indian women. In 2015, when Leslee Udwin’s documentary—India’s Daughter, based on the 16 December 2012 brutal gang-rape in Delhi of medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey—released, it found itself at the centre of a storm. The government of India banned the BBC documentary; it is the height of bigotry not to tolerate even an independent voice to draw attention to the serious issue. Nearly 68,000 rape cases were registered across the country during 2009-11 but only 16,000 rapists were sentenced to prison, presenting a dismal picture of conviction of sexual offenders.
According to National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011 but only 5,724 people were convicted for crime. Similarly, in 2010, 22,172 rape cases were registered while number of convicted persons for the crime was 5,632. A total of 21,397 rape cases were registered in 2009 but only 5,316 persons could be convicted. For a country, where average rate of rape in the capital New Delhi is six per day, violent reaction to a work of fiction is misplaced. If the Indian government or its people are really concerned about protecting the honour of their women, they should concentrate on addressing the malaise of this moral depravity, which targets real women and reduces them to victims, some of whom are too ashamed even to report it.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.