If anyone should be hopping mad over Bhansali’s Padmavati – sorry, Padmaavat – the spectacular cinematic tribute to the Rajput (obviously decent, virtuous Hindus) and crass demonisation of Emperor Alauddin Khilji (the archetype of marauding, meat-gorging, horny Muslims!), it is us. Why is the Karni Sena, along with other Hindutva outfits, going on the rampage, burning cinemas and malls and turning the whole country upside down?
This when bowing to the threats and diktats of these defenders of Hindu pride, the makers of the movie have already changed the title from ‘Padmavati’ 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 watched the film have found it so utterly generous and reverential to the Rajputs and so demeaning to Khilji that it’s perplexing why the assorted nuts 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 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 joined and allied with the ‘enemy’ against their own?
Many Rajputs even inter-married with the Mughals. Indeed, mighty Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, latter 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 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. Which is the least of the movie’s problems. Which is fine, I suppose.
Filmmakers and storytellers enjoy a creative licence to tell their stories the way they want. They do not claim to be true chroniclers of history. But should they degenerate into 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 roiling Modi’s India these days. Perhaps taking cue from the reigning order and self-regarding dogma of contemporary India, these ‘historical’ storytellers claim to present the stories of Indian heroes. Almost always these heroes are pitted against the violent and ugly ‘Muslim invaders and aggressors’ with their regulation endless beards and angry tempers.
Even in a period drama like ‘Porus’ on Sony that turns the spotlight on Alexander the Great’s ‘attack on mother India,’ which happened centuries before Christ when the Muslims did not even exist, there are repeated references to ‘foreign invaders’ who unmistakably look and speak like you know who.
From wilful and dangerous distortion of history in films and television to 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 young, impressionable minds of future generations.
The Muslim rulers are routinely portrayed as bloodthirsty barbarians killing thousands of their subjects, destroying temples and forcing 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, 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. The Muslims had all the time and resources to accomplish it 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 been only limited to historical inaccuracies and 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 the Hindus and Muslims. Reading all those text books and perpetually bombarded with the hate messaging 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 multiplying Muslims, loyal to Pakistan and forever lusting after 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 over a century have begun to bear results. The Muslims have become total strangers in their own country and driven to the margins of Indian society after more than 1200 years of existence in India. What is most remarkable about this unprecedented phenomenon is the fact that the Muslims, who ruled India for nearly a thousand years, are totally 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 the Partition and reeling from tragedies like the Babri Masjid 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 did not field a single Muslim even in Uttar Pradesh, which boasts more than 20% Muslims in a population of 200 million.
There are around 2% Muslims in elite Indian Administrative Services. The same goes for the armed forces and police. On the other hand, they have highest representation in jails, far more than their 15% share in population.
Yet this powerless, pathetic minority is painted as the ‘clear and present danger’ to India and not just 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 to madrassas 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 unaware of the world falling apart around them. It is a depressing state of affairs, to say the least. Not very different from what the Muslims faced in Spain centuries ago after their 700-year long reign that immensely enriched Europe and Western civilisation. Today, there is not a single believer left in Spain; nor a mosque left standing. No wonder the Parivar often looks to Spain for inspiration.
(Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former Khaleej Times editor)