We are all aware of the drama that has unfolded surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period film, “Padmaavat”. From vandalism of the sets to outright death threats issued to lead actors of the film, it is nothing short of a social and political circus. What strikes me the most is how all of this is centred around women, but starkly different in the roles they play.
The first woman in question is a queen whose pride and honour is apparently of such importance to the common man, that he has taken to the streets to defend it any cost. As per historical records, the war between Khilji and Ratan Sen was fought in the 1300s. 200 years later, Rani Padmini – the very name, and her role in the war – was mentioned in a poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. It is important to note the political impact the queen had on the war. Her husband, the King, not only lost the battle to a dangerous enemy, he also compromised the community’s pride by allowing an enemy to see the queen’s visage. What Rani Padmini did next – the Jauhar – along with thousands of other Rajput women was the only way to turn the situation around and uphold their honour and glory in the face of a huge loss.
Now this poem and many research papers related to the war have always been available to the general public. It is no secret that many historians question the very existence of the said queen and the occurrence of Jauhar. While some believe that these events actually occurred, they too have varying versions of the incidents. Nonetheless, without questioning whether these events are fact or fiction, we can all agree that the story speaks of the pride and bravery of Rajput women.
But when a renowned Bollywood director picks up this story to re-tell it in a visual medium, all hell breaks loose. We have the Karni Sena, a not so prominent group (not in the national scene at least), leading violent protests along with other sangathans (organisations). While it is easy to brush off such groups as fringe elements, they actually represent a large section of our society. What started off as a group of men creating a ruckus has now taken a dark turn. They have managed to get 1800 women to sign a document stating they will perform Jauhar if the movie is released.
Although only about 200 women showed up at the “Swabhimaan” (self-respect) march on January 22 in what could be regarded as empty threat tactics, the fact that they showed up at all is sad. The men, having realised that their threats have fallen on deaf ears, brought out their biggest political weapon – women. While we may be a country still fighting female foeticide, Rajasthan being one of the top contributors, we take our women very seriously once they become political puppets. There is nothing that can get the ball rolling faster than a group of women waving swords, screaming slogans and threatening to kill themselves. So now, as these women – who I am sure know nothing about Jayasi’s poem or Bhansali’s movie – become the face of this circus, the men who started it in the first place will sit behind and watch.
Men in India will always stand up for the honour and dignity of a woman, as long as she is regarded as a Goddess, a celebrated queen or is dead. Bonus points to Rani Padmini for being all three. While everyone involved is showing great vehemence and persistence to fight their cause, I wish they had picked their battles more wisely.