Announcing a bounty for beheading Deepika Padukone proves that India is not as ‘democratic’, ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ as it claims to be

Published: November 22, 2017
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Padmavati, starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles, and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is based on a 16th century Sufi epic poem, Padmavat. PHOTO: TWITTER/SUMIT KADEL

The ideology of the Taliban is in an expansionist mode –  it is no longer confined to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but has started capturing territory in India as well. And it is being ably assisted by none other than the ruling party in Delhi.

How else can you explain the announcement of head money for the director and the lead actress of the upcoming movie, Padmavati, by a senior member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? How else will you explain the open endorsement by some members of the BJP for the fringe militant caste group, Shri Rajput Karni Sena, which has threatened to create havoc if the release of the movie is not suspended?

Padmavati, starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in their respective lead roles, and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is based on a 16th century Sufi epic poem, Padmavat, in which a brave and beautiful Rajput queen chose to kill herself rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji. The fictitious narrative has over the years been integrated into the fabric of Rajput and Hindu history.

The Rajput queen, Padmini, prefers to commit jauhar, a kind of self-immolation, rather than be taken captive or worse, raped, by the Muslim king. The main anger of the protesters stems from the presumption that there is a romantic dream sequence between Padukone and Singh in the movie.

In an era where love jihad is prevalent in India, the inter-religious love affairs between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man is unacceptable to the ruling party. Would there be the same level of anger and protests on the street if Padmini was portrayed presumably romancing a Hindu king?

No.

The Taliban never felt comfortable with Afghanistan’s non-Islamic past. Therefore, they wanted to erase all the physical symbols of that past, the result of which was the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. The right-wing Hindu party is similarly uncomfortable with India’s Muslim past, as well as the presence of Muslims in contemporary society. Thus, they want to silence their history.

India is, it would seem, also in the grip of a majoritarian extremism.

The political language and debate surrounding this movie do not portray India as the moderate, liberal and democratic country it wants the world to perceive it is. Announcing a bounty for beheading someone is a medieval practice; threatening to kill someone is not the jargon of a ‘democratic’ society; whereas the open threat to burn theatres if a movie is released is not normal to a ‘liberal’ society.

There is no doubt that India has a chequered past when it comes to banning books and art, but never has it stooped so low, or been so sectarian in its approach.

In the 1990s, India’s national TV station, Doordarshan, used to broadcast a historical serial, Bharat Ek Khoj, based on the book, Discovery of India, which was written by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The serial discusses Padmini and Khilji and presents different narratives regarding their relationship. But this normal, creative discussion never roused the sensitivities of the Hindu Rajputs the way it does today.

Indeed, that was a different era.

The harsh yet historical truth is that the Rajput community and Muslims have always been allies in history. They have a past of not only political alliances, but also marital ones. Some very important political positions in the pre-Mughal and post-Mughal phases were occupied by Rajputs under the Muslim suzerainty.

Yet, now the ruling party wants to communalise this history.

While India wants to play a leading role in the international arena, and wants to sell its democracy to the outside world, the country is being turned inward. A normal society is regressing towards radicalisation. It is nurturing majoritarian extremism.

Some political experts believe that this issue is being spread to divert attention from the pressing economic issues the nation is facing. With the Indian economy on the back foot and the opposition gaining traction, the BJP is trying to polarise people on the Padmavati issue in an attempt to gain support from its base – the Hindu fundamentalists.

This is evident through the elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf, which are proving to be tough for the ruling party this time. Modi has always thrived on the fault line between Hindu and Muslim, and the Padmavati controversy increasingly seems like an attempt to hoodwink voters, who are apparently disenchanted with the rule of the Hindu right-wing party.

The kind of political language the members of the ruling party in India are using at the moment is making Saudi Arabia look more moderate and liberal in comparison. Democratic and liberal India has long been a critic of Wahhabism, which promotes extreme conservatism. Yet today, the Indian society has started mirroring the same fundamentalism.

A Hindu Wahhabism of sorts is trying to take the country hostage, and the sheer magnitude of the Padmavati controversy proves that they just might be successful in doing so.

Santosh Arora

Santosh Arora

The blogger is a journalist from India.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • chinga

    true…. it glorifies Jauhar…. but who encouraged jauhars.. it was the INVADERS who professed some otherreligion and culture.. that did not RESPECT women and just allowed for war winners to take them as Booty and use them for their sexual desires…Recommend

  • gameplanner

    ..and the beauty democracy is there are more number of people condemning the act.There is always chance for both sides to air their reviews.You have gone too far attributing voice a bunch of people (goons ? ,)from over a billion odd people, to democracy,intolerance and what not.The fact that you are sitting in the same’ intolerant ‘ society and writing this piece with out any fear,sums up the ‘real facts’Recommend

  • vinsin

    Rajputs are not the only one who are Hindu. India never claimed to be a liberal an a tolerant. This is not the first time a movie is banned or postponed in India. Only difference it that in the past it was for Muslims mostly and nowadays some Hindu also want the same privileged. Love Jihad was banned by Nehru. Rajputs were allies to Mughals not to Muslims. Battle of Rajasthan for 300 yrs was led by Rajputs, Hemu was Rajputs so do others. Mughals were not the only Muslims rulers, Nawabs were too and they never liked Rajputs.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Thank you to the author for defining what Bharat is. Kudos.
    A once great nation, taken over by extremists and terrorists
    wearing suits and ties. Instead of a dhoti and a pagri
    Take all the extremists, and their various parties, put them in a
    mutka, give it a good shake and out comes BJP and its fiends of
    the worse kind. Leading Hindustan on a malevolent path.
    Hitler must be doing cartwheels in Hell. There is now a Brown Hitler
    in Asia carrying his legacy onwards.
    Bharat has a very long way to go before it reaches any where near to
    being a leader of ANY kind. Recommend

  • Usman Rehmatullah

    So what if India is not liberal..Maybe for some people there cultural values are more important who are you to enforce your liberalism on them. Sanjay Leela Bhansali started it by making a controversial movie now he has to face the consequences too.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    About love jihad ,it surely exists.I have met many muslims at my work place.Most of them have desire to marry a hindu girl.Recommend

  • Parvez

    On reading this the cynical streak came out and I was forced to think……now this will cause people to flock to the movie houses to see the movie and ka-ching ! ka-ching ! the cash registers will happily ring.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    This is happening in all developing countries. Religious sentiments have risen very dramatically recently. I am so sad for Sanjay who has made such a costly mistake.Recommend

  • Syed Faheem

    I’m surprised and shocked that some souls are surprised and shocked by the everyday ground realities in India. This is all ‘business as usual/Chalta hai’ stuff and it would never ever change.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    India is a country of 1.2 billion people and out of those, 1 billion people have no issue of this movie being released. So no, you can not judge India’s tolerance by the action of just one community.Recommend

  • Ahsan Khan

    and then convert her.Recommend

  • Ahsan Khan

    #shiningindia … indians have time and again proved that Pakistan was not at all a mistake and what’s happening in kashmir, assam and punjab is reflective of its national sentiment which is to divide, kill and rule.Recommend

  • http://www.indianess.com creativeIndian

    well the author should first understand that India is very huge country and very complex to be governed with so many religions and castes and on top of that democracy. In fact your’e argument falls flat. First in place since it’s a democracy people had the courage to make such movie and the same democracy allowed people to protest, unlike in west or Pakistan.Recommend

  • Amer Lodi

    Most Indians are literally savage peopleRecommend

  • CRITICAL

    the main problem with indians now is that arrogance and fake nationalism had increased manifold . just like pakistan of 1970s &1980s. Now a days indian feels that they r out of league and entitled and cant do any thing wrong , they justify every wrong act in the name of religion or nationalism like cow vigilantism or banning any thing on whims and fancy. THE SAME PHENOMENA occurred in PAKISTAN from 1970s and now pakistanis are feeling the pinch and realizing there mistake however time had passed and they cant make it right. It will be same for indians the sins of this generation had to be bear by nxt young generation.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Democracy also gave the Hindus the right to hang Muslims under any pretext.
    And to kill, blind, maim, school children, girls, women, boys, men. And to conduct
    a genocide in IOK.
    No wonder old men, old women, grandmothers throw rocks at the Bharati armyRecommend

  • Patwari

    You say 1.2 billion!!? It used to be 1.6 billion!!. You Hindustanis killed off a lot of
    Muslims!? And other minorities! No one knew. You’re down to 1.2 billion now.
    That’s Genocide.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Bhansali and other Bollywood producers have knack of creating controversial movies to make money. This is disgusting way to make a living. Instead of attacking Padukone they shoudl take out this Bhansai fellow.Recommend

  • Sardar KHAN

    Highly intolerant.They are still suffering the 1000 years of rule by Muslims of their country.Next they will disown Akbar e AzamRecommend

  • jaynat

    oh really ? then savages are at the helm of some of the top companies around the globeRecommend

  • Meenakshi

    It is bizarre that film people, most lacking talent and basic general awareness think that their understanding of a historical legends is supreme and needs to be respected. This shows that in India, the high and privileged can be shown their place by ordinary people. The movie reflects the level of mediocrity that plagues bollywood – songs, dance, jewellery, clothes and topless men makes for a “great cinematic experience” as per these bollywood walas. Their outrage is selective.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Whatever.
    It’s none of Pakistanis business. Mind your own country and your own people.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Nothing wrong in that.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Akbar e Azam’s grave was dug , his bones were taken out and burnt by a Hindu in 1680.Recommend

  • Abid Mahmud Ansari.

    Santosh has raised some very valid points, like, Would these “so-called” Rajputs will raise same level of agitation, if Padmavati had married a “non-Rajput”, or a low cast Hindu Raja? In fact its the romance lining between a Muslim King and Padmavati, which is more disturbing to the narrow minded, prejudiced Saffron brigade of BJP. One cannot change the history and one’s neighbours. This is historical fact ,long remained erased from Indian history books, while in Pakistani history books, this is an old fact and every student of history knows it. This controversy has exposed another side of Indian society, that its not as mature and secular as it poses to the World.Recommend

  • Abid Mahmud Ansari.

    Love Jehad banned by Nehru, almost seventy years back! This tells the whole story,reason which is pricking Hindus for so long!Recommend

  • Abid Mahmud Ansari.

    I may add further, that Nehru must have banned Love Jihad, after he himself experienced it in his own family, first,his own sister Ms.Vijay Luxmy Pandit, and Ms.Sarojni Naidu, fell in love with Quaid-e-Azam,Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while his daughter Indra Gandhi married a Muslim, Feroze Gandhi.Recommend