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January 26, 2018

Padmaavat and the ‘M’ factor


January 26, 2018

If anyone should be hopping mad over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavati’ – sorry, ‘Padmaavat’ – the spectacular cinematic tribute to the Rajputs (obviously decent, virtuous Hindus) and a crass demonisation of Emperor Alauddin Khilji (the archetype of marauding, meat-gorging Muslims), it is us Muslims.

Why is the Karni Sena, along with other Hindutva outfits, going on a rampage, burning cinemas and malls and turning the whole country upside down? And that too when bowing down to the threats and diktats of these defenders of Hindu pride, the makers of the movie have already changed the title from ‘Padmaavati’ to ‘Padmaavat’. The fringe, however, remains up in arms. It was only after the Supreme Court intervened that the movie finally got released this week – albeit it remains a ‘no-show’ in many North Indian states.

Those who have watched the film have found it so utterly generous and reverential to the Rajputs and so demeaning to Khilji that it is perplexing why these assorted groups have been thirsting for Bhansali’s blood. As Anjana Kashyap of India Today – no Muslim-loving ‘sickular’ herself, mind you – puts it, it is as if the Karni Sena has whispered Padmaavat’s plot into Bhansali’s ear.

So what if the film is nothing but a reckless and deliberate distortion of history, just as many such Bollywood period films in the recent past, including ‘Jodha Akbar’, and television serials have been? So what if most of the valiant Rajput chieftains – save for some notable exceptions like Rana Pratap Singh – never put up a fight against the Delhi sultanates and the Mughals and many of them have joined and allied with the ‘enemy’ against their own?

Many Rajputs even inter-married with the Mughals. Indeed, mighty Mughal emperors like Jahangir and Shah Jahan – the latter being the architect of the iconic Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Jama Masjid – had been the sons of proud Rajput mothers. So what if the beautiful Rajput princess Padmavati never existed except in the realm of the imagination of Awadhi Sufi poet Malik Mohammed Jayasi?

Far from attempting to present historical facts accurately, Bhansali does not even remain faithful to Jayasi’s romantic epic. This is the least of the movie’s problems. Which is fine, I suppose.

Filmmakers and storytellers enjoy a creative licence to tell their stories in the way they want to. They do not claim to be true chroniclers of history. But should they degenerate into a deliberate vilification and misrepresentation of a whole community as bloodthirsty, violent savages who live to kill, rape and eat, as Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ and many other movies of this genre do?

It is not just Bollywood. Of late, there has been a deluge of period dramas on television too with just about everyone making the most of the Muslim hate fest that is roiling Modi’s India these days. Perhaps taking a cue from the reigning order and self-regarding dogma of contemporary India, these ‘historical’ storytellers claim to present the stories of Indian heroes. These heroes are almost always pitted against the violent and ugly ‘Muslim invaders and aggressors’ with their endless beards and angry tempers.

Even in a period drama like ‘Porus’ on Sony TV that turns the spotlight on Alexander the Great’s ‘attack on Mother India’, which happened centuries before Christ when Muslims did not even exist, there are repeated references to ‘foreign invaders’ who unmistakably look and speak like you know who.

From the wilful and dangerous distortion of history in films and television to the misrepresentation of historical facts in textbooks, there is a desperate frenzy in Hindutva’s India to turn back the clock and rewrite the past, playing havoc with the young, impressionable minds of the future generations.

The Muslim rulers are routinely portrayed as bloodthirsty barbarians who kill thousands of their subjects, destroy temples and force Hindus to embrace Islam as part of their religious mission. Even though there’s no shred of historical evidence to support these wild claims and theories that have been propounded by biased colonial historians, they have been enthusiastically embraced and peddled by the Right.

If there had been any truth in these claims, India would have been a Muslim country today. Muslims had all the time and resources to accomplish this too. Instead, they made this country their home, lovingly developing and enriching it in so many ways. You have to be blind to miss their impact and imprint on every facet of Indian life.

Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors. One wouldn’t lose sleep over it if this ‘otherisation’ of Muslims had only been limited to historical inaccuracies and the distortion of facts.

What really worries me – as it should every Indian who loves his/her country and desires its wellbeing – is the hate and ill will all this is generating between Hindus and Muslims. By reading all those biased textbooks and being perpetually bombarded with hate messages in films and on television, even Muslim children would grow up hating their own ancestors.

After all this vilification of a voiceless, dispossessed minority, coupled with the propaganda of love jihad and the multiplying Muslims who are loyal to Pakistan and forever lust after the cow and fair Hindu women, would you be surprised if Muslims are increasingly being hunted like animals?

You reap as you sow. Hindutva’s hard work and persistent efforts for over a century have started to bear results. Muslims have become complete strangers in their own country and have been driven to the margins of Indian society after more than 1,200 years of existence in India.

What is most remarkable about this unprecedented phenomenon is the fact that Muslims, who once ruled India for nearly a thousand years, are down in the dumps, according to every social and economic indicator.

As many government commissions and studies have acknowledged, the largest minority is easily the most deprived and disadvantaged in the country – even more backward than the low-caste Dalits. Still blamed for Partition and reeling from tragedies like the Babri Masjid’s demolition, the community has learnt to keep a low profile, curiously content in its abject poverty and confined to its ghettos.

For a community of nearly 200 million people, it has little presence in parliament and state assemblies. The BJP takes pride in the fact that it did not field a single Muslim candidate in the recent assembly elections for Gujarat and Haryana. Why, it didn’t even field a single Muslim in Uttar Pradesh, which boasts more than 20 percent Muslims in a population of 200 million.

There are around two percent Muslims in the elite Indian Administrative Services. The same goes for the armed forces and the police. On the other hand, they have the highest representation in jails – far more than their 15 percent share in population. And yet, this powerless minority has been painted as a ‘clear and present danger’ to India.

This has not just been done by the Parivar. The Indian media is equally obsessed with the ‘M’ factor, tapping into the inexplicable insecurities of the majority. From Pakistan-trained terrorists and madressahs being used as terror nurseries to the spectres of love jihad and triple talaq, Indian society is perpetually threatened by its Muslims.

In the face of all this sweetness and light, the Muslim leadership appears totally clueless. Let alone evolving a strategy to confront the challenges staring the community in the face, most of them are unaware of the world that is falling apart around them.

It is a depressing state of affairs, to say the least – not very different from what Muslims faced in Spain centuries ago after their 700-year-long reign that immensely enriched Europe and the Western civilisation. Today, there are no old mosques left standing in Spain. No wonder the Parivar often looks to Spain for inspiration.

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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