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Meena Yeggina


BJP's Dangerous Polarizing Games

Is glorification of Queen Padmavati's fictional self--Immolation more political than cultural?

By Meena Yeggina

Padmavati, a movie starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is due on December 1st closely followed by the prestigious Gujarat elections. Gujarat, a closely guarded forte of the irrationally and illiterately conservative right wing Bharatiya Janta Party headed by none other than the RSS Pracharak and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is recently being dominated by the young Rahul Gandhi, assisted by charismatic trio Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Melvani. The main aim of these three young rebels is to remove BJP from power to curtail the hardships of Patels, Dalits and minorities.

"Though we don't know for sure, Bhansali's
Rani Padmavati seems like a glorified Rajput
wife dedicated to her husband and Jauhar


BJP, currently reeling under severe attack for its failed Demonetization spin, GST, and several corruption charges involving the sons of Amit Shah and Ajit Doval found a life-saving buoy in the movie Padmavati- ripe with Hindu- Muslim power struggle juxtaposed with a solid angle of love Jihad! And the boys in BJP went berserk with it. While BJP leader (an ex-Harvard professor by the way) Swamy said the Pakistani terrorists could be funding the movie, other BJP leaders such as Uma Bharati, Sakshi Maharaj, Chintamani Malviya, Vipul Goel, Raj Purohit, Arjun Gupta clamored for a stay on its release.

Rani Padmavati was a Sri Lankan
Princess as depicted in the fictional
poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi
The center is keeping calm, slyly aiding and abetting the rage, pushing the general public a little more, observing and testing grounds. Definitely this fight is not about historical facts as the story of Padmavati is fictional and is the imagination of a poet 240 years after the rule of Alauddin Khilji. Then why is BJP fuelling this fire? To win Gujarat? To polarize Hindus (note that this is about Rajputs and Brahmins. Other Hindus don't really care about kings as whoever rules from the top, the poor people destiny will remain the same, Hindu or Muslim) and Muslims? Furthering the idea of Hindu pride? Alienating Muslims by portraying Muslim rulers as meat eating, women raping barbarians? By wiping out the real history? Perhaps for all of the above. Winning at whatever cost is crucial for BJP.


Horror stories of Sati where women were drugged, tied and poked and forced down
on the pyre with sticks to keep them burning live are well documented facts
Hindu right-wing groups protesting the
release of Bhansali's film in Rajasthan

Frankly I cringed watching the trailer of Bhansali's Padmavati where Khilji is shown as a cruel, meat-eating barbarian: He is darkly clad with a ruthless demeanor in contrast to Shahid Kapoor's dignified, regal looks, though a tad meek, yet tolerant and victimized! To be fair, Alauddin Khilji is a handsome and skillful warrior. His aim is to win, just as any king those days. The fact is that there was no united India in Khilji's time. All land is game and whoever was skillful and cunning won; either Rajputs or Muslim kings, they were all fighting for their territories and mind you, with the aid and friendship of many Rajputs (who were on the side of the Muslim rulers) or Muslims. In addition a lot of cross religion marriages and alliances were taking place resulting in mixed raced population. This fact that Rajput kings gave away their women in marriage or alliance to powerful Muslims in exchange to political freedom and security is a well-known historical fact and that always bothered the current generation of "pride-filled" Rajputs. To a casual observer, it would seem horrific that in this age and day we are fighting to celebrate the pride of a woman who was literally forced to self-immolate to save her honor. Instead of blaming the culture that forces women to do so, we should be condemning it, making sure such cultures are not glorified. Maybe instead we should glorify the actions of Rani Laxmibai instead for three reasons: One, she was REAL, not fictional. Two, she actually fought the British, who was in true terms an outside force, bleeding India. And three, most importantly, as a widow, she did not commit Jauhar, to save her so-called modesty. She FOUGHT as a true hero.

Can celebrating Jauhar (a mass Rajput ritual of selfimmolation where in several women and children kill themselves to save their virtue from conquerors when defeat in an invasion seem imminent) in 21st century as pride, honor and bravery of women be justified as Hindu culture? As a woman, and as a mother of two, I would definitely say no, definitely not in this 21st century nor in any bygone era.

When director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (of Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, RamLeela, Bhajirao Mastani fame) got slapped, pushed around and his set in Rajasthan ransacked while shooting a scene for his latest venture Padmavati, hell broke lose in both Hindi film industry and outside of it. This assault, led by a local Hindutva group, was based on the assumption that Bhansali was shooting a romantic dream sequence between the characters of Padmavati and the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khalji.

The problem to them was that as Padmavati was a "noble and honorable" Rajput queen (she is actually from Sri Lanka, in the poem) who preferred to commit Jauhar than succumbing to Khalji, it would be dishonoring her sacrifice and courage if such a romantic song, even as a dream, is shot between them. In addition, any romance between them would be, according to the protesting Hindutva group, a "distortion" of history.

There are, however, two indisputable facts contradicting the above disputable misguided narrative:


One, Rani Padmavati is a fictional character, a heroine in a poem written in 1540 (See boxed item for her storyon pg 67), a solid 237 years after Alauddin Khalji's Chittor campaign of 1303. This fiction is a tale of the celebration of a Rajput queen's willingness to die rather than give herself over to a "tyrant (sic)," who coveted her. The fiction, titled Padmavat, was told in a long Awadhi-language poem by the 16th century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. It has as its central characters Padmini or Padmavati the queen of Chittor, her husband, Rana Ratansen Singh, and the sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khalji (also transcribed as Khilji). While all other characters are imaginary why the poet chose to include Khalji's name in his poem remains a mystery.

There are no contemporary accounts of Alauddin's siege that mention Padmavati. While there are still some historians who believe the story of The Padmavat to be true, almost everyone agree that Alauddin's march on Chittor was more an expression of an ambitious ruler's campaign of relentless military expansion rather than a lovesick man's quest for a beautiful woman.

Two, even if assuming Rani Padmavati is historical and the story really took place, what is wrong if a director sees it through a different prism and reinvents a scenario? Shakespearean stories, Christ's life and even the Ramayana were interpreted in several ways by many authors so far. An artist eye travels to places where even the Sun cannot, they say. The thrill of any such creative conflict otherwise would be missing and movies and stories would become religious ceremonies.

However, what bothers me more is neither of the above-misplaced narratives but a more perilous and preeminent third one that has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for us women now, in 21st century. In this age and generation to where women have travelled through decades fighting inequality, sexism, abuse and rape, to view Jauhar and/or Sati, where women are forced in the name of culture and tradition to commit suicide (horror stories of Sati where women were drugged, tied and poked and forced down on the pyre with sticks to keep them from running away from a raging fire of Sati are well documented facts) are lauded as "bravery," "honor" "pride (sic)," not only of the women killed but of an entire community and now to overall Hinduism, is alarming. It is shameful to say the least and undermines the hardships and work done by feminists and women's rights' activists. Centuries of turbulent, tear-filled brave fights against prejudice and abuse is being brought down in a jiffy in the name of 'honor.' Such outrages over woman's "honor" is unnerving because it equates "honor and bravery" with a "pure" body. Rape and sexual assault yet again become a victim's problem and 'loss of "honor,"and hence death' equation is peddled as a better choice than living with this bodily "stigma."

Symbolic interpretations are important to any community's social structure. But by making Sati and Jauhar symbols of woman's bravery, strength, pride you are again pushing her into the world of darkness and sorrow where a woman's body is given more importance than her spirit thus making her a commodity yet again. And Hindu woman raped by a Muslim? Out of question! Shame is doubled instantly and death is advocated as the best option. Remember the same Rajput community would commit atrocities over their women and people; give away their daughters in marriage to powerful kings in exchange of their own survival! Not that there is anything wrong with intra-community marriages. But it is the double standard that is utterly shameful.

When the rich and powerful embrace such twisted and false cultural prejudices equating them with pride of a community, it is trickled down to the masses and embraced by all and sundry and eventually becomes a ritual.

It's a historical fact that Rajputs (who according to the census constitute only about three percent of Indian population) lacked war skills and were easily defeated by the more innovative, stunning military and war strategies of the Muslim invaders. While only upper castes could become captains of the Hindu army, Muslim kings would encourage strength and skill to rise in the hierarchy irrespective of their caste or religion. Hence many skillful commoners including Hindus could rise to the top of the rung in Muslim army whereas it was impossible amongst Hindu armies. In addition, Rajputs were lazy and spoiled. They had several in-fights and many plotted against one another to defeat their own clan members. That they gave away many of their daughters in marriage or in exchange for other favors to stronger rulers including Muslim kings is a well chronicled fact and has been a consistent point of shame to the Rajputs. To counter attack these ignoble deeds it is believed that Rajputs and their poets had many gallant poems written in the name of their valor, turning absolute defeats into pride-filled chivalrous deaths. The Rajputs dramatized almost all losses including that of Prithiviraj Chauhan to make them look like treacherous and deceitful murders by the invaders. They say that best poems come not from the winners but from the losers in war. One such fantasized story is that of Rani Padmavat of Chittor, a poem written by a Muslim poet Jayasi (who was then serving a Hindu king) just as Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. Both of them though well-known fictions loved by all but can't be misinterpreted as history.

History needs to be viewed through the prisms of time and date and move on from there. It's not about Hindus against Muslims those days. It is just about winners and losers and everyone wanted to conquer as much land as possible, all of them, whether Muslim or Hindu. Sati and Jauhar are cruel practices invented by upper caste Hindus in the name of false prestige and pride at the cost of women and children who absolutely had no say in the matter. When have forced suicides become prideful acts? If women were left to fend for themselves they would have probably learned to fight their wars and shed those unnecessary acts of "pride" and "bravery" involving self-immolation and chastity. They would have probably chosen to become brave Rani Laxmi Bais than submissive Satis!

Treating these notorious rituals as those of pride and honor will be doing injustice to the current crop of strong, capable, and educated women who came a long way to be where they are, doing what they are doing. They are still carrying the torch, running for their right, a right to live life their way, strongly, individually, taking one slow torturous step at a time. Hence, now to bring out an evil practice of days gone by such as Jauhar and Sati and call them acts of bravery, pride and honor, will dangerously push the clock back in time where women were just commodities bargained for power. In addition, it will undermine the hard work done to change the same. Women are already fighting modern day murder in the name of dishonor where Jauhar kund (a special well-like chamber for women and children to commit mass immolation) has moved from Rajput palaces to radiologists' ultrasound chambers where the sex of the fetus is revealed and later relieved if it's a female. Bringing back the glory (sic) of Jauhar and Sati would be death knell (pun unintended) to Indian women's fight for freedom. Do we really want this regressive time-travel in the name of misplaced honor, pride and bravery? Hell no!

To a casual young observer, it would seem horrific that in this age and day we are fighting to celebrate the pride of a woman who was literally forced to self-immolate to save her honor. Instead of blaming and rectifying the culture that forced women to do so, we should be condemning it, making sure such practices in the name of Dharma are not glorified.

Kangana Ranaut in her
upcoming biopic Rani Laxmibai.

If we really need to glorify a historical woman's actions to inspire the current generations, we should probably glorify the actions of say a Rani Laxmibai instead, basically for three reasons: One, she was REAL, not fictional; Two, she actually fought the British, who was in true terms an outside force bleeding India; And three, most importantly, as a widow, she did not commit Jauhar to save her so-called modesty-she FOUGHT instead as a true hero.

India as a country and Indians as a people need to focus more on economy, education, environment, heath and infrastructure and keep questioning the Government about them. Let not politicians divert us from such real issues to those fringe ones such as Padmavati and her self-immolation, national anthem and standing up for it in theatres(before watching an item number), and beef eating . Culture need to make us better, happy people and not maniacal, self-righteous bullies.

As a widow, Rani Laxmibai did not commit Jauhar to save her so-called modesty-she FOUGHT the mighty British instead as a true hero.

The Myth of Rani Padmini (

Rani Padmini is not mentioned inany Rajput
or Sultanate annals, and there's absolutely
no historical evidence she existed.

In 1303 AD, Alauddin Khilji, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi, captured Chhattisgarh after a long siege. Two hundred and thirty-seven years later, an Awadhi poet named Malik Muhammad Jayasi composed a poem titled Padmavat about the fall of Chittor. Historians such as the chronicler of Akbar's reign Abul Fazl picked up the tale in succeeding eras.

The story of Padmini varies from one writer to another but the basic contours are similar. A sorcerer banished by the king of Mewar Ratan Singh finds refuge in the Khilji court, where he fills the Sultan's ears with tales of the beauty of Ratan Singh's wife, Padmini. Alauddin manages to get a glimpse of her, and is enraptured. He captures Ratan Singh by deceit, and offers to release him in exchange for Padmini. The Rajputs hatch a cunning stratagem to free their king, but lose several warriors in the process. Alauddin defeats the weakened Rajput army, only to discover that Padmini and all other women in Chittor fort have committed jauhar.

Rani Padmini is not mentioned in any Rajput or Sultanate annals, and there's absolutely no historical evidence she existed. Alauddin Khilji, one of the finest generals in India's military history, certainly required no treachery to subdue Chittor. He repelled successive Mongol invasions while conquering much of Rajasthan and Gujarat. But what has survived of him is the image of a lustful, deceitful, tyrant pitted against chivalrous Rajputs, thanks to misrepresented, fictional poems and narratives.

The Myth of Prithviraj Chauhan (

A pretty standard give-and-take battle for that
age where Ghuri defeated Prithviraj fair and square.

Prithviraj Chauhan ruled Delhi in the late 12th century AD. In 1191, the Afghan ruler Muhammad Ghuri took the fortress of Bhatinda on the border of Prithviraj's kingdom. Prithviraj advanced towards the frontier, and met and defeated Ghuri's army at Tarain. The next year, Ghuri returned with a stronger force, defeated Prithviraj, and had him executed. Pretty standard give-andtake for that age.

In the hands of Prithviraj's court poet Chand Bardai, and several later writers who embellished the narrative, the chivalrous Prithviraj defeated and imprisoned Ghuri, but generously set him free. The foe returned, attacked unfairly at night, captured and blinded the Rajput king, and took him back to his capital. Prithviraj's companion convinced Ghuri to let the blind king demonstrate his skill as an archer. Instructed by the companion, Prithviraj killed Muhammad Ghuri before ending his own life in a suicide pact.

Many grew up believing this to be historical truth, thanks to the volume of Amar Chitra Katha about Prithviraj's life. I suppose children today watching television serials about Prithviraj and Padmini swallow the same fictions. It is noteworthy that no cases have been filed in any Indian court against these erroneous retellings of Indian history.

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