Padmavat: Rajasthan govt surrenders its dignity by banning the film even after being cleared by CBFC

Sandipan Sharma

Jan 09, 2018 17:02:48 IST

Several years ago, when Rajputs were demanding deification of Roop Kanwar — a young woman burnt on her husband's funeral pyre in Rajasthan's Deorala — some hotheads armed with swords surrounded former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat at a railway station.

The Rajputs, who were back then led by the some of the leaders currently threatening to burn down Rajasthan if Padmavat is released, demanded that Shekhawat support their demand for getting Roop Kanwar declared 'Sati Mata', a deity.

Surrounded by a violent mob brandishing swords, confronted by leaders of his own community, Shekhawat could have taken the easier option of succumbing to the thugs, perhaps even hijacking the agitation for glorification of a young woman killed by her family and community in the name of tradition. But, Shekhawat refused to give in to threats of violence and ostracism. "My father died when we were young. If my mother had become sati then, I would not have been here. No, I will never support sati," Shekhawat, then the leader of the opposition in the state assembly told the raucous Rajputs. Stared down by him, the mob scattered.

Padmavat: Rajasthan govt surrenders its dignity by banning the film even after being cleared by CBFC

Deepika Padukone in a still from Padmavat

How would have Shekhawat, the man who single-handedly kept the BJP alive in Rajasthan for decades, reacted to threats of violence by Rajput groups if Padmavat were released in Rajasthan? My bet is, he would have looked the thugs in the eye, reprimanded them in his famous baritone and warned them of dire consequences for taking on the state.

Unfortunately, as Shekhawat fans once proudly claimed, Rajasthan has had just one Singh (lion). Since his death, the state has been deprived of leaders with a mass appeal, and moral rectitude and courage. This lack of courage is evident in the way the state has bowed to the demands of Rajput hotheads for banning Padmavat.

This is not just about the diffidence of the state government that has genuflected to the Karni Sena and its cohorts leading the campaign against Padmavat. There is a saying in India that the waqar (dignity) of sarkar (government) should be buland (high). But, the Rajasthan government has surrendered its waqar, ironically in the name of the dignity of a fictional character, by banning the movie even when it has been cleared by the film certification board of India. Clearly, it doesn't trust the censor board constituted by its own government at the Centre for taking the right decision.

The Karni Sena has been threatening to burn down theatres in Rajasthan if Padmavat is released. By doing this, it is putting a sword to the government's neck. In any other democracy, in any other place where the Supreme Court and other constitutional bodies have rejected demands for a blanket ban, the government would have come down with its full might on the Karni Sena. Instead, it has surrendered to threats and blackmail.

Rajputs are nearly ten per cent of the state. It is difficult to believe that all of them subscribe to the politics of violence practised by the Karni Sena. But, the state government has banned the movie purportedly to defend the dignity of Rajasthan. Unfortunately, there is no bigger humiliation than running away from the fight for artistic freedom and India's constitutional ethics at the sight of a handful of adversaries. Such chicanery in the land of Rana Pratap, Prithviraj Chouhan and Amar Singh Rathore, is embarrassing.

The Congress too is watching in silence this cowardly surrender, the attack on state's dignity. None of its leaders have come out in support of the film or stood up for freedom of expression. There was a time when Congress leader Ashok Gehlot was known for taking brave decisions. He had once ridiculed Chandraswami in public even when he enjoyed the patronage of Congress leaders like PV Narasimha Rao. A few years ago, he had shown exceptional courage in dealing strictly with Asaram and his followers, when the self-proclaimed godman was accused of rape and blackmail. That Gehlot of yore is now watching in silence. Perhaps his conscience too is heavy with the burden of surrendering to Muslim hardliners when they demanded Salman Rushdie not be allowed to speak at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

According to Malik Mohammad Jayasi's legend, Padmini had shown jauhar (courage) by immolating herself, rather than letting Alauddin Khalji attack her honour and dignity. Clearly, the Congress and the BJP both lack the jauhar to take on those attacking the foundations of Indian democracy.

This is the second time a film is being banned in Rajasthan. A few years ago, Rajputs had Jodha Akbar banned because they couldn't bear to see a princess of Amber (near Jaipur) marry a Mughal emperor. A few years after the ban, the film became a regular on Indian TV channels, turning the diktat into a joke.

The current ban on Padmavat won't work either. In the age of pirated prints, free downloads, anybody who really wants to watch a film can do so in the comfort of his home. Ultimately, the legend of Padmavati retold by Sanjay Leela Bhansali would become a household tale in India.

People may or may not remember the film. But, what would not be forgotten is how a state known for valor and countless fights for honour and dignity wiped out its own legacy with a collective show of cowardice.

Not just fictitious character like Padmavati, even legends like Shekhawat would have been ashamed.

Updated Date: Jan 09, 2018 17:02:48 IST

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