The word Rajput, once associated with valour, dignity and service, today bears the ignominy of being compared with a group of roguish no-gooders rallying for an obscure cause, bearing no semblance to the values inherent in the clan. The Karni Sena and other groups have today regrettably become the mainstream voice of the Rajput cause.
Their violent and outrageous acts of arson, criminal intimidation and agitation have left all right-minded Rajputs, like me, hang their heads in shame.
The contentious issue of a celluloid retelling of a mythical story of the brave queen of Chittor and the expansionary zeal of the ruler of medieval India, has moved beyond the realm of academic and scholarly discussions to thuggery that should find no place in modern India.
One wonders whether the Karni Sena realises that their actions today are more akin to the marauders their ancestors fought against, rather than reflecting the true disposition of the Rajputs.
Rajputs (‘those of royal lineage’), or more broadly Kshatriyas (‘those connected with the royal power’), have traditionally been the governing and military castes for millennia. Their contributions to the armed forces – with numerous Generals, war veterans and military leaders – as well as political leaders, many of whom lead parties and have headed governments, film stars, historians and artists have all come to embody the true values of what Rajputs stand for.
The Rajputs have fought bravely in every war that has ensued since the first invasions on these lands since the time of Alexander. The time in question of the movie, Padmavat’s period, was again one which witnessed a historic resistance to the invading Khalji dynasty ruler, who went on to defeat the Rajputs.
This is not before the rulers and their brave women made the ultimate sacrifice of dying in battle and committing the act of jauhar. These acts have remained in the popular collective memory since those medieval days.
Equally, Rajputs and rulers have been patrons of the arts. They encouraged performing, visual and literary arts, one which was based on pluralistic ethos rather than parochial religious or casteist lines.
In keeping with that tradition, while one may disagree with the manner in which Padmaavat portrays the protagonists, can a mere movie really change the abiding reality of what our contribution has been to this country?
Can we allow the modern interpretation of a Rajput to be distorted by a fringe element that does not realise the damage it is doing to our hallowed legacy? What interpretation of the word “Rajput” will those children retain, stuck and scared in their school bus, as the ‘brave’ defenders of the faith went on a rampage? Is this what I will tell future generations that we, as a proud martial race, stand for? The Rajputs suffered terrible losses and defeats at the hand of a centuries old nemesis, which continues to harm it today. Disunity. This lack of cohesion ensured that our armies were routed and kingdoms usurped. We stand a historic chance to correct this today. It is time for all Rajputs – from the Kashmiri to the Deccani – to come together to stand united against these fringe forces. We need to do this because inaction will forever remain an indelible blot on our collective conscious. We cannot look away, and we cannot allow them to represent us. It is time that we call out these rogues for what they are – petty criminals. Their agitprop does not represent the cause of any Rajput. They do not represent what we stand for. Some community leaders have sensed a political opportunity to use the movie as a rallying cause. The post-Mandal era has left the community devoid of political heft and its position ambivalent in the caste-based pecking order. Rajput youths feel disenfranchised, we are told. The tyranny of the ‘General Quota’ has led to this eruption of rage. These explanations, with whatever merit, are dangerous and misrepresentative of the collective (and hopefully majority) view of the community.
We need to employ our traditional reserves of fortitude, hard-work and excellence to do well in India and abroad. We have never wished for patronage, nor benefit, sans merit. These must continue to be abiding principles for not just Rajputs, but all Indians. It is also time that political and social leaders from the community stand up against the scourge of violent protests. The opportunism of the political class to once again divide on the basis of pseudo-pride needs a Rajput-like response. Swift and deft. The contribution of the community in defending our borders is not enough. We may agree to disagree with what is shown on the silver screen, without endangering freedom of speech and expression. This is what our ancestors would expect, as is the expectation of a modern nation State from its citizens. Will the real Rajputs please stand up?