What, I have been wondering over the last few days, have the Rajput groups to gain by their violent resistance to Padmaavat? What benefits will accrue to them as a result? Will they see an improvement in their social or economic status? Will their employment prospects improve? Will they derive any material gain from insisting that no one should see the film? Surely not — it’s only a film, after all.
Before the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, political punditry had it that the protests, and the aggressive assertion of Rajput identity, were a diversionary tactic, focusing attention away from the disastrous fall-out of demonetisation and glitch-ridden GST, onto a non-issue. But the elections are behind us now, yet the vandalism and violence continue unabated, and the arm-twisting and intransigence are becoming more extreme by the day. One among the group even threatened to destroy Parliament and the Supreme Court.
The Rajputs themselves or the Karni Sena or the diverse groups that comprise the Sarva Samaj Sangharsh Samiti are not yet a political party, so there are no electoral gains to be realised as of now. What is it about, then?
They say it’s about distorting history, about casting the worst kind of aspersions on Rani Padmavati — and by extension on all (Rajput) women — suggesting in the film that she was involved with a Muslim invader, when in fact she committed jauhar. That this is a grievous insult to her, her honour, and to Rajput pride and valour. That it cannot be countenanced by a community that fought valiantly against the Muslim onslaught.
If this, indeed, is what it is about, then make no mistake, their “hurt sentiments” are not only unabashedly communal, they are also deeply and unequivocally misogynistic. Women in this discourse are possessions, passing from one man to another, but only within the fold. And only with their permission. I ask myself, would these champions of women’s virtue have shouted themselves hoarse if the film had shown this fictional character in a liaison with a fellow Rajput? And then, what sort of valour is it that valourises collective suicide by its kinswomen? Is this something that other, non-Rajput, women should emulate?
There is a patriarchal consensus, we know, regarding the subordination of all women to all men, but the deep misogyny that is on display in this case, and that I worry about, is predicated on a visceral dislike — revulsion, even — that is communal at its core. If the Muslim here is the Outside Other, then women in this scheme of things, are the Inside Other. The Other within the community. Within the brotherhood. As the Inside Other, the woman must be controlled, must never transgress, for in her transgression lies the threat, the insult, to the honour of the brotherhood.
But upholding this honour comes at a price, and in this instance it’s the women who pay the price. I would have thrown in my lot with the Karni Sena and the Rajput groups in Rajasthan if they had done the following in the name of women’s honour and dignity: Come out on the streets to ban child marriage — Rajasthan has the highest percentage of girls married below the age of 15 in the country. It is illegal, but it persists. Readers will recall that in the early 1990s, a government saathin, Bhanwari Devi, was gangraped by upper-caste men in Rajasthan for trying to prevent child marriages in her village. I would have joined them on the streets (but not indulged in vandalism or violence) if they had shouted: Ban Violence Against Women.
The National Crime Records Bureau says that Rajasthan reports the second-highest incidence of cruelty by husbands against wives; and the fifth-highest rate of crimes against women in the country, at 78.3 per cent — 27,422 cases reported in 2016. I would have cheered if the Karni Sena and Rajput groups had committed themselves to improving the educational status of women in Rajasthan. The District Information System for Education (DISE) reports that only 45 per cent of girls in Rajasthan make it to middle school. No surprise, as many are married off in their early teens.
As they have done none of the above in order to ensure women’s dignity and honour, I am forced to conclude that the outcry and violent protest regarding Padmaavat is not about the insult to women, or to their honour, but about something else entirely. The flipside of honour is shame. There was a slogan that women’s groups chanted when we protested the gangrape of Bhanwari Devi, on the streets of Jaipur. It went like this: Mooch kati kiski/ Rajasthan sarkar ki. The Karni Sena and Sarva Samaj Sangharsh Samiti might want to ponder that, and ask themselves what exactly they’re fighting for. And what they stand for.