Padmaavat: From History to Hysteria

A scene from Padmaavat
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A weakness of will to enforce order

IT IS NOT easy to behold the sight of cowering children as their school bus comes under attack from lumpen elements pelting stones. Yet, that is what the so-called agitation against Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat has come to. What began as a questioning of one-sided historical portrayal of a community’s traditional practices has now been reduced to nothing more than a series of law-and-order issues across states in northern and western India. These should be crushed in accordance with law enforcement rules. The question of a debate on the film does not arise at all.

Much water has flown since the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) issued a certificate for the film after its conditions were met. This was a prolonged process where all concerns of the Karni Sena—a rag-tag gathering of people claiming to safeguard Rajput ‘honour’—were taken into consideration. As later events showed, this was a mistake. Instead of serving as an ameliorative gesture, the Sena took it to as licence to create even more trouble. It should be a lesson to the ruling dispensation that appeasing such irredentist outfits serves no purpose but only adds fuel to fire.

If this were not enough, the error was compounded with folly when the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments approached the Supreme Court for a revision of its order allowing the release of the film without hindrance across all states. The plea by the two states that law-and-order would be hard to maintain was a specious one: the first task of a state is to preserve the life and property of citizens—in this case, the residents of these states. Saying that this basic duty cannot be carried out just because a film inflames the opinion of some fringe elements defeats the very purpose of having a government. It bespeaks a certain weakness of will to enforce order. The Supreme Court correctly rejected their plea.

What is being seen now is a breakdown of law and order that has nothing to do with the film, let alone the interpretation of an episode that may or may not have happened centuries ago. The firm response in Uttar Pradesh, a state led by a chief minister who is Rajput and the head of a Hindu religious order, shows that where political will exists, things can be set right. Other state governments need to take note.