On January 25, the Rajput Karni Sena, a fringe group virtually unknown till last year, defied the Supreme Court of India, crushed freedom of speech, and terrorized the public in four states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Rajasthan-based group successfully prevented the screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat in its home state, as the Vasundhara Raje government did nothing to ensure its release as per the Supreme Court's order.
In 2017, the Supreme Court turned down multiple requests to ban the movie about Padmavati, the titular character in Malik Muhammad Jayasi's poem Padmavat, a 16th-century fictionalized account of Alauddin Khilji's siege of Chittorgarh. It ends tragically with Padmavati committing jauhar - a Hindu custom of mass self immolation by women - to avoid capture by the Muslim sultan of Delhi.
While, on the one hand, waxing lyrical about the honour of Rajput women, Karni Sena members have issued vile threats like beheading Bhansali and cutting off Deepika Padukone's nose.
For over a year, the Karni Sena has led a violent agitation against the release of the movie, which they claim (without watching it) distorts history and portrays their warrior caste in a bad light. The fringe group, backed by several BJP leaders, has objected to things like Padmavati's character dancing in the movie and exposing her midriff. They also believe the period drama hints at a romance between the Rajput queen and the Muslim ruler. While, on the one hand, waxing lyrical about the honour of Rajput women, Karni Sena members have issued vile threats like beheading Bhansali and cutting off Deepika Padukone's nose.
Following the uproar, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) asked Bhansali and Viacom, the producer, to make five changes. The movie was cleared after the film's name was changed from Padmavati to Padmaavat and Padukone's midriff was covered through special effects.
On January 18, 2018, the Supreme Court stayed the notification issued by Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, banning the film. "Creative freedom, freedom of speech and expression can't be guillotined," the court said. On January, 23, 2018, the Supreme Court again rejected a petition by the BJP governments of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to ban the film.
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In the run-up to the release date, Karni Sena goons vandalized cinemas halls, damaged buses, and blocked roads. In one horrifying instance, a school bus with little children was attacked by a mob protesting the release of the film in Gurugram in Haryana. Fearing violence and damage to their property, many cinema hall and multiplex owners decided against screening Padmaavat.
Those who watched and reviewed the movie have said the movie is a visual spectacle saddled with a limited narrative, essentially a three-hour long ode to Rajput honour. But the Karni Sena is continuing with its "janta curfew." On January 25, there was not a single screening of Padmaavat in the state of Rajasthan.
In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, Mahipal Singh Makrana, president of the Karni Sena, shared his thoughts on defying the Supreme Court as well as growing disillusionment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "The janta curfew will continue and we will keep protesting until the film is banned," he said.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Why are you defying the Supreme Court?
We did not want the Supreme Court decision. We did not go to the Supreme Court. Some third party went. The decision is being imposed on us. Only those people who have money get judgments in their favour.
Four judges of the Supreme Court have come out and questioned the working of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judges are themselves saying save the Supreme Court. What will we do in such a Supreme Court when the judges are themselves worried? From the first day, we have taken this to the central government. We want Modi to ban it. It is in his hands.
The Supreme Court is not above the people. You cannot give a decision by listening to only one side. That is not right. The public has come on the road despite the Supreme Court decision. The judges are saying they are hurt because freedom of speech, freedom of expression is being damaged. We also have freedom. We are not Rohingyas, we are not Bangladeshis, we are not Pakistanis, we are tax-paying patriotic citizens.
We want Modi to ban it. It is in his hands.
How can you say this only those with money get judgment in their favor?
This is a drama of Viacom 18. Viacom 18 is the owner of News 18, Viacom 18 is the producer of this film, Viacom 18 is Ambani bandoo, against whom our Prime Minister is not speaking out. We chose and sent him (Modi). He is the biggest person to talk about Hindutva but he is silent now. The Godhra hatiyakand is the reason that he is the Prime Minister today. He is forgetting that. At that time, we supported him because we felt that he was right. Now, we feel that we have to rethink it.
The Godhra hatiyakand is the reason that he is the Prime Minister today.
What do you mean?
Modi is our Prime Minister. We chose and sent him. If he wants, he can annul the certificate of the CBFC board in one minute. The CBFC certificate which Prasoon Joshi has given is the basis of the Supreme Court decision. If Modi removes the basis of the decision then the film will fall. The film can be banned.
What do you mean you supported Modi after Godhra?
It means that we thought that he would talk about Hindutva. We thought Modi ji is doing this for Hindutva, for bhagwa (saffron-colored flag), for kesaria (saffron). Can he not see our kesaria? Are we not Hindus? Are Kshatriyas not Hindus?
We thought Modi ji is doing this for Hindutva, for bhagwa, for kesaria.
Modi has said that he was not complicit in the Gujarat riots?
Maybe he wasn't. We felt that he had given a message.
Is the BJP supporting you?
If BJP was ours then why is Modi quiet? He talks on small things, this is a big thing, the nation is on fire. Modi is not helping us and we are upset about it.
BJP is standing on the support of the Rajputs, the Brahmins, the baniyas, but we are being sidelined. People like Murli Manohar Joshi and Jaswant Singh, who were the backbone of the BJP, have been sidelined. And you think these (BJP) are our people.
We supported the Congress in the by-elections (Lok Sabha), Raghu Sharma in Ajmer and Dr. Yadav (Karan Singh Yadav) in Alwar. But the Congress people at the national level don't even know that we are supporting them. They are so dumb, they are speaking against us.
What is your problem with the movie? People who have seen it say that it honours the Rajput.
If my name is changed from Mahipal Singh to Narendra Modi then I won't become Narendra Modi. Changing the name of the movie from Padmavati to Padmaavat does not change what is inside.
People who have watched the movie are saying that Rajput glory is shown but there is also a little bit of masala. Can we tolerate even a little masala when it comes to sisters and daughters? It may be a small thing for you but this is about our swabhimaan.
Why is India different from other countries? The women in this country still believe in one husband and staying together for seven janams. Satitv is about your loyalty to your husband. We find that in Indian women. Women committed jauhar to escape from being sold in foreign bazaars and you want that show in a movie, for entertainment, in the name of freedom of speech and expression.
Can we tolerate even a little masala when it comes to sisters and daughters?
Why don't you try watching the movie?
We don't want any maal or masala. You don't know our background, the background of our women. You don't know how our women live, how they speak. They are showing the raja and rani as lovers. We don't have that kind of exposure even between husband and wife.
You glorify Padmavati who committed jauhar, burnt herself alive. Is she a role model for a young generation of Rajput women in this age?
Girls in our age are not being sold in foreign bazaars. If that situation happens again, the girls will decide for themselves what they have to do. Who am I to decide? Padmavati decided for herself that it was better to be burnt alive rather than sold. If the shadow of another man falls on a woman then Hindu tradition says it is completely wrong. But I have no cure for the western culture.
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