The headlines feature two beautiful Indian girls; one feted and the other maligned. While Manushi Chillar has a crown on her head, there are cries to cut off Deepika Padukone’s head; India: unfailing in her dichotomy.
It’s a tale of two queens, a beauty queen and a mythical one. Did Padmini exist? If the controversy is to be believed, she was a living legend. Someone who needs to be idolized. Worshipped. Fie on the irresponsible filmmaker showing her in bad light. How dare he take Sufi poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic 1540 AD poem, and turn it into an art work? So what if it is purported to be fictional? So what if noted historian from that era, Amir Khushro, makes no mention of this mythical Queen in his notes from the Khilji era. Many modern historians have also rejected the authenticity of this legend.
A Rajput Queen has been slighted. The women of Rajasthan disrespected. No matter they are still treated as second class citizens! And the illiteracy rate of Rajasthani women is 47%. Does it even matter if under age marriage affects 43% of Rajasthani girls? Rajasthan’s Karni Sena knows better. Those statistics are irrelevant. Instead, it is imperative to take up cudgels on behalf of long dead royalty.
Karni is an old Sanskrit word, which implies the act of splitting. It is said to be a kind of an arrow, something that breaks through. It seems an apt name for this rabid group of protesters. There is a temple in Rajasthan dedicated to Karni Mata, a supposed avatar of Goddess Durga. The temple is a haven for rats. Just as devotees of the temple jostle to feed the rats, extreme fundamentalists are fueling the rats of the Karni Sena. Rats aiming their arrows to divide this country rather than appreciate artistic talent.
To digress a bit, arrows reminds me of Team Arrow. This group of young, motivated Indians is leading an initiative, Crossbow miles, which is a modern day dandi march across the country. The idea is to mobilize communities to make the country safer for women and girls. Karni Sena needs to learn a lesson from them. The on-ground movement is mirrored with an online initiative where people are invited to contribute their footsteps in order to kickstart change and give girls a different future. Through workshops conducted during the journey, women learn about digital and financial literacy, health and hygiene and women’s rights among other things.
But back to our queens. Manushi Chillar’s declaration of motherhood as the highest paid job, won her a crown. She dreams of being a surgeon but it may come as no surprise if those dreams turn celluloid. Meanwhile, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s spectacular biopic applauding beauty, wit, courage and selflessness of a mother, who also happened to be a queen, is derided. In fact, Padmini was not even Rajasthani. According to the poem, she was a princess from across the seas, from Singhala or modern day Sri Lanka. Maybe the Sri Lankans need to be more upset!!
I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha’s and the memory of Padmini leading the women of Chittor to Jahaur is etched in my mind. I remember thinking how grateful I am this custom is banned. Even then, for me as a young child, Sati and Jauhar were not events to be idolized. I’m sure the rats of Karni Sena, would prefer reviving these archaic customs.
What’s even more upsetting is the blind eye being turned on this blatant misuse of power. This hounding of a reputed film maker. This call for mutilation of a talented and popular actress. Is this the India our forefathers fought the British for, who by the way for all their faults and there are many, were responsible for banning Sati and Jauhar? Is this the same India with high ratings from Moody? Not-for-profits organizations, corporations, even the government are trying to put India on a fast track to development. There is a buzz word clash; skill India, improve infrastructure, digital India, smart cities vs Hindutva, beef ban, khap panchayat, updated history texts.
It’s the old India vs Bharat conundrum.
Someone asked me if I am happy to be back. I had to think for a while. As much as I enjoy meeting friends and family, I prefer life in New York more. Work requires me to be online. The erratic connection in India frustrates. I miss reliable internet access. I rarely take medication in the US but am already on antibiotics in India. As soon as I land, my throat, eyes and nose seize up. I miss clean air. Sure, America is not bereft of problems either. Between Trump and no gun control, need I even say more? But things work. There is a system.
Charles Manson died this week. A known sex fiend, a criminal and cult leader who guided his disciples to commit murders. Recrimination was hard and fast and he was found guilty. Our home grown cult leaders manage to escape recrimination. Charlie Rose was accused of a sex offense and PBS immediately suspended his popular show. Ditto for Kevin Spacey and others. Therein lies the difference. Justice prevails in the US; quick, efficient. It takes years in India. And is not necessarily unbiased.
Meanwhile, the release of Padmavati has been ‘voluntarily’ deferred. The publicity generated will help the coffers ring. Redemption? Or is it all a ploy? The controversy is real. India is not an easy country to govern. It’s easier to distract citizens with inane and insane predicaments than to propel growth and take the country on to another trajectory.
Maybe the fictional queen needs to step out of the books and lead our leaders to mass Jauhar. And from the ashes we will rise.
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.