By Nimesh Bansal
The Supreme Court, taking time out from the controversy it is itself engulfed in, was forced to intervene in matters of actual national importance as it sought to quell the uproar surrounding Padmaavat. India’s top court told states that they cannot ban the movie on grounds of risk to public order after Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh had banned the period film’s release. However, Karni Sena is not impressed.
Who is the Karni Sena?
The Shri Rajput Karni Sena is a fringe Hindu nationalist caste group that makes headlines every few years when a historical drama is released. They have duly built on their crying and raging in 2008 when Jodhaa Akbar was the talk of the town by going to war with the filmmakers of Padmaavat. The movie’s set was attacked in January 2016, where director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was allegedly slapped by members of the fringe group. Their demonstrations have continued ever since and included a threat to chop off actor Deepika Padukone’s nose, among their other shenanigans.
Karni Sena was able to influence BJP governments in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh into banning the release of the controversial movie. In the wake of the Supreme Court quashing these state-sanctioned bans, the nationalist group has threatened to vandalise theatres that screen the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.
What is Padmaavat actually about?
The period film has met the ire of Rajput groups as they believe that the movie distorts history and tarnishes the image of the legendary Queen Padmini who is looked upon as an icon by the Rajput community. Queen Padmini of Chittor is said to have immolated herself to escape falling into the clutches of the invading forces of Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi Sultan. Rajput groups believe that the movie suggests a romance between Queen Padmini and Alauddin Khilji, who is said to be obsessed with the queen, thereby sullying the sacrosanct image of Queen Padmini.
However, there is still debate whether Queen Padmini actually lived or is just a figment of creative imagination. Padmaavat is based on an acclaimed poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. In the poem, Rajput Queen Padmini is a legendary beauty who chooses to jump into a pyre instead of submitting to Sultan Alauddin Khilji after he kills her husband.
Why should I care?
The unrelenting unverified controversy over a movie is not a new thing as Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar had suffered the same fate a decade ago. Many states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan took offence to historical depiction in the movie and subsequently banned the film. Just like today, Supreme Court proved to be the voice of reason and had the ban lifted. Back in 2008, senior advocate Ashok Desai was quoted as saying, “The fundamental right to speech and expression is being trampled over by various state governments with the sole objective of gaining political mileage by banning the film.” Ten years on, it’s Groundhog Day in India.
The Karni Sena commands immense influence on the Rajput vote-bank and thus, political parties have always been unwilling to antagonise such groups. Their nationalist tendencies strike a chord with the BJP who bowed down to the Karni Sena’s demands in 2008, and now again in 2018.
Is there hope?
India’s Supreme Court has proven with its ruling that bullies have no place in democracy. However, bullies are nothing if not persistent. The censor board cleared Padmaavat, the Supreme Court cleared Padmaavat, but it has still not been cleared by the group of people who are actually running the show: The Karni Sena.
Padmaavat is scheduled for release on 25th January 2018, a day before India celebrates the 69th anniversary of the country becoming a republic. However, with nationalistic groups coming to the fore now and then, we are reminded of India’s despotic tendencies.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia
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