Padmavati, Karni Sena and the crisis of Hinduism

By Saswat Pattanayak

The outrage against Karni Sena is entirely misplaced. These hooligans will eventually be forgiven by their gods because they know not what they do. The real dangerous elements however are those who claim to know better, and yet fervently endorse Padmavati – whether as a fictional character, a historical figure, or as a movie script awaiting screening.

In all shape, way, and form, Rani Padmini legacy is a textbook instance of Islamophobia. If the practice of Sati was/is justified by the Hindus as the chaste wife syndrome, the practice of Jauhar which Padmini was said to have opted for (historical account of which is heavily disputed), was even one step further – such mass suicides by Hindu women had nothing to do with love (sic!) for their deceased husbands, rather they had to die so that Muslim men couldn’t touch them.

That Bhansali would actually make Padmini the glorified protagonist of this movie – and publicly assuage the fears of a casteist bunch in a regressive society, by comforting their so-called “Rajput Pride” – speaks volumes about the nostalgic fixation of feudal Indian society with remnants of their “royal families”. Instead of revisiting these occupiers of palaces as the parasites without any constitutional locus standi to claim honorifics, Hindus continue to glamorize these families who trace their family trees to this Padmini woman, who certainly was not the only one to have self-immolated herself anyway. In an era of democracy and purported egalitarianism, the Indian filmmakers and the public alike continue to stay obsessed with oppressive and entitled women as heroic figures.

In fact, the only bright side to the entire Padmavati movie saga has been the Karni Sena. The only reason so many liberal Hindus are so riled up against them is because they are failing to cover up the true colors of Hinduism which are on full public display, thanks to the hooligans of “Shri Rajput Karni Sena”. And in a bid to dissociate themselves from this Sena in order to save the “image” of their country, they are either discrediting this Sena as a “fringe group”, or they are outrightly rejecting Padmavati as a historical chapter.
However, just as Karni Sena is an offshoot of BJP, Hindu terrorism is an offshoot of the Hindus. None of these are “fringe” elements. There is a direct causal relationship between a majoritarian religion and its manifestations just as there is one between a political line and its deviations.

Just as sexism is inherent to patriarchy even as sexist behavior is not apparent in every action of a patriarch; just as xenophobia is immanent in nationalism even as irrational hatred is not always discernible in the patriot; just as conservatism is integral to the fascists even as all their political positions are not necessarily reactionary – so also, intolerance, vandalism and terrorism are permanent features of Hindusim, even as occasionally the devout Hindu appears to be preaching “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.

Padmavati debate is not about free speech and artistic freedom. It is certainly not about historical fact-checks. Majority of decent people in India are not angered by Karni Sena because they believe in peace and non-violence. The good Hindus are angry at the bad Hindus (depending on which side one identifies with) because of the embarrassment such vandalisms are causing the religion itself. The sanctity of the great religion needs to be protected at all costs, after all. The problem however is, neither the Bhansali fans nor the Karni Sainiks think of themselves as the Bad Hindus. The question then is, does a Bad Hindu even exist? It is as obvious as the question: does Hindu terrorism exist?

The denial is legendary and it did not start with a right-wing party that is currently enjoying political power. The externalization of the bad guys from Hinduism by calling them fringe or corrupt or evil is a deliberate ploy to sanitize the religion of the possibility that it could be intrinsically capable of producing not just the good guys but also the bad ones. Hindus simply have been failing to grasp that the same religion which produces saints/babas/gurus/swamis/maatas also is capable of producing terrorists and vandals. Even more so, that, most, if not all of these godmen and saints are themselves terrorists and vandals. And when they are not exposed to be thus, they are busy inspiring their followers to attain that ideal.

Padmavati is not just another movie. It is potentially posing a challenge to the long-held beliefs of the religious. Hindus hold such beliefs sacrosanct and so quite naturally they are peeved at the trailers (if anyone is still attacking these people as folks who are yet to see the movie, as though to imply that vandalism should be tolerated after a week of the movie’s release, unless someone exclusively wants to ensure that Bollywood makes its week’s big earnings first…).

Angry Hindus have always beaten the heck out of those who oppose their beliefs. They kill atheists every now and then on the streets. They shoot to death progressive journalists when they express fearless opinions. They beat up Dalits for asserting themselves and even for skinning dead cows. They murder Muslims who are rumored to be eating beef. They thrash university students who express dissent. They slap and kick anyone who doesn’t stand up when the national anthem plays. They assault and attack whenever they feel like their sentiments are hurt. Goes without saying, that not every Hindu kills Gauri Lankesh. Not every Hindu kills Mohammad Akhlaq. And not every Hindu destroys cinema theaters following movies like Padmavati. But that does not mean that Hindu terrorism does not exist. Quite the contrary – those who deny Hindu terrorism are the ones who abet it.

So far as the Hindus go, there is nothing wrong or extraordinary in their reactions to Padmavati. They are so addicted to their religion, that when they are drunk in it, terrorism is all the truth that eventually surfaces, in all its honesty.

(Discussion on Facebook)

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