As Padmavati controversy rages, I wonder if it is staged by the Producer and Director of the film to get the free publicity. The politicians also needs publicity – good or bad, they don’t care. The film gets a very high opening week since now, people are curious to know what’s up with the film. It’s a totally win-win situation.
Before we dive into the topic, let me say that the film should not be banned. It is counter-productive. And I will suggest a counter-plan at the end of this blog.
The real loser, in my mind, is history. Our nation, our civilization, our heritage goes back so long that our recent history qualifies as ancient for majority of nations across the world. I remember reading plaque ‘oldest monument’ in Florida, US that was barely 400 years old. But as is the case with excess, Indians do not look at the history, the way rest of the world does.
Why? We can even argue that our civilization is a-historical in nature (read, Nandy and Lal). Perhaps, that’s the reason we survived for so long when all other ancient civilization silently collapsed and ceased to exist. But to be a-historical doesn’t mean forgetting history. I don’t think we forgot history. There are multiple examples throughout last one thousand years where Indian kings and empires achieved success by evolving and adapting.
The current apathy towards history cannot be explained so simplistically. Our society not only refuses to know the history but when faced with onslaught of agenda driven misinformation, our society cringes and backs away by meekly saying, it’s only history, who cares! In fact, the current predisposition sees knowing history as hindrance to moving forward! Even our government, since the formation of republic, has actively tried to whitewash the bloody past, watered down key events and in a lot instances simply air-brush the grand Indian empires out of history. (I never learned much about Raja Raja Chola in my history class. The Ahoms of Assam, anyone?)
Suffice to say the situation is grim. And all these shortcomings are apparent in discourse around recent Padmavati crises. Even if we allow the scenario of Padmavati film producers in cahoots with rabble rousing politicians, the media and the secularist fundamentalists are going in overdrive to protect the name of Khilaji. Business Standard recently came out with an article about how Khilaji was a darn good Economist (if only Noble prize could be given posthumously!).
Such stupidity begets more stupidity since there are whole bunch of people biting this bait. So now, we have two types of idiots – one who claims that history is irrelevant and second, after learning false narrative, go around legitimizing bloody Muslim rule in medieval India. These ‘scholars’ even claim that Rajputs weren’t fighters and their defeat means the innocent women and children of their kingdom deserved death and enslavement!
The historicity of Padmini is not clear. I find it rather far-fetched that when Hindu slave girls were dime a dozan (literally!), Khilji, who also happens to be gay, would go running after a beautiful girl in Mewar. However, the raid of Khilji did happen. The destruction of Mewar did happen. The sacking, plundering and wanton killing of innocent men, women and children did happen. The Jauhar did happen. (To extremely secular people out there, the Jauhar wasn’t about celebrating Khilji’s victory!)
The Jauhar after Khjlji’s defeat of Mewar wasn’t the first or the last instance either. For example, the invasion of Jaisalmer by Balban resulted into defeat of Jaisalmer. That defeat was followed by almost 24,000 (let that number sink in!) women setting themselves on fire. Similar jauhar happened in Ranthambore in 1298 AD, Chittor in 1303, Siwana in 1308, Jalore in 1309. But why did these women burnt themselves to death en-mass?
I am quoting few example below from the Professor K. L. Lal’s seminal work on slave trading in Islamic India:
• Muhammad Bin Quasim first attacked Debal ( i.e. Deval near modern day Karachi) in A.D. 712. It was garrisoned by four thousand Kshtriyas (soldiers) and three thousand Brahmins (Noble man). All males above seventeen were massacred and their women and children were enslaved. ( Lal 17) (C. H. I III, 3.)
• In Brahamanabad six thousand fighting men were slain, but according to others, sixteen thousand were killed and their families enslaved” (Lal 18) ( Mohammad Habib, “The Arab conquest of Sind”, in Politics and society During the Early medieval Period , being collected works of Habib, ed. K. A. Nizami, II, 1-35. Al Biladuri, 122 has 8000 to 26000 killed)
• When Mahmud Gaznavi attacked Waihind in A. D. 1001-1002, he took 500,000 persons of both sexes as captive. This figure of Abu Nasr Muhammad Utbi, the secretary and chronicler of Mahmud, is so mind-boggling that Elliot reduces in to 5000. (Lal 20, Tarikh-i-Yamini, E. D, II, 26; Elliot’s Appendix , 438; Farishtah, I, 24.)
• Allauddin Khalaji was one of the most successful Sultans during the period of 12th and 15th century. During his army’s campaign against Vahgela dynasty in Gujrat, they sacked Somnath and in the words of Wassaf “the Muslim army in the sack of Somnath took captive a great number of handsome and elegant maidens, amounting to 20,000 and children of both sexes. The Mohammedan army brought the country to utter ruin, and destroyed the lives of inhabitants, and plundered the cities and captured their offsprings.
• Abdulla Khan Uzbeg’s force of 12000 horse and 20,000 foot destroyed, in the Kalpi-Kanauj are alone, all towns, took all their goods, their wives and children as slaves ad behaded and ‘immortered’ (fixed heads with morder in walls and pillars) the chiefest of their men. (Lal 73, Abul Fazl, Akbar- Nama II 195 – 96)
The barbaric events spread over few centuries are but few I quoted and yet the common theme is pretty evident. Destroy, plunder and enslave (sounds familiar? ISIS, anyone?). The women were especially enslaved as sex slaves. The market for Hindu slaves was well standardized in Northern India, especially in Delhi and the rates would fluctuate post new round of invasion. (Per liberals, this is a clear indication of free market policies being ushered by these foreign warriors!) Rajput clans put on fierce resistance to these invaders for centuries and that made their women and children special target in the eyes of Islamic invaders. To counter this, Jauhar became a better option than being a sex slave. (Per Pattanaik, the upper caste male patriarchy of Hindus is to be blamed. And being sex slave of a barbaric Islamic invader is a far better option!)
And taking such drastic measures isn’t confined to history either. As recent as 1947, there are quite a few instances even during partition where Sikh and Hindu women jumped into the wells and killed themselves when faced with imminent rape and violence by Muslims.
The story of Rani Padmini encapsulates our countries bloody and de-humanizing past. The story cannot be forgotten nor can it be forgiven. I don’t know what Bhansali chose to do in his movie. But by banning it, we are doing disservice to our history and potentially missing out on a grand opportunity to educate wider audience. Once movie is banned, the shrillness of liberal fundamentalist and biased media will drown the historical events of Islamic invasion and Jauhar. The discussion then revolves around myopic issues like secularism, Freedom of Expression and then, of course, Modi government. The movie will get released and I can assure you that it will be financially hit. The controversy-makers will move on to next project and history will be left in dust.
Instead of banning film, can we print pamphlets and brochures on reality behind Rani Padmini and distribute it outside of Movie Theater? Spread the word, reach the maximum audience and educate. This will be a slow process but a sure process towards a society that doesn’t forget the past sacrifice and strive to live by it.
1. The Slave System in Islamic India by K.S. Lal
2. The History of Khaljis by K. S. Lal
3. Agony of Women During Partition by Haroon Janjua, Oct 20th, 2013 (https://tribune.com.pk/story/619750/agony-of-women-during-partition/ )