THE All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), in a statement issued on November 22, has strongly condemned the threats and acts of violence unleashed by right wing vigilante groups like the Rajput Karni Sena which has prevented the release of the film ‘Padmavati’ on the scheduled date. The parallel system of ‘goonda raj’ being perpetrated by such extra constitutional groups has been exacerbated by the felicity with which several constitutionally elected state governments have succumbed to these pressures. It is a matter of deep concern that the state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab have declared that they will not allow the screening of the film without incorporating the changes suggested by the Karni Sena. This illegal and unconstitutional declaration comes at a time when even the Supreme Court has refused to stay the release of the film and directed the Censor Board to pronounce its verdict on the matter.
It must be noted that ‘Padmavati’ is a fictitious mythological character whose historical existence has been questioned by reputed historians of the country. In fact the depiction of ‘Padmavati’ has passed through several stages and varying representations. Over time, these have begun reflecting the feudal and patriarchal notions pervading the dominant culture of the Rajputs, designed to preserve the hegemonic control of this princely and warrior class over their subjects. Unsurprisingly, the picturisation of Padmavati by these groups tends to promote an idea of nationhood and morality which strengthens the conservative Hindutva notion of “womanhood” where a woman’s ‘purity’ is linked to the honour of the nation. AIDWA has consistently countered this attempt which serves to strengthen patriarchal authority. It stands with the movements that promote freedom of choice and plurality of expression.
In this background, the current actions of the Karni Sena and the support that they have received from elected MLAs and ministers of the BJP underline the extent to which the ruling dispensation is willing to compromise with anti-women and upper caste organisations in an attempt to expand their domination in current politics. In the process they have unleashed a vicious attack on the film maker and the actors who have participated in the making of the film; portraying the ‘working woman’ (in this case the actress) as “bad and characterless” against the fictitious virtuous woman (ie, Padmavati). While doing this they have indulged in serious character assassination of the heroine, threatened to chop off her nose, and also handed out death threats to the cast and production crew of the film. AIDWA condemns these forces and demands that the central government should take stringent action against them.
The entire controversy is being used by the ruling party to deflect attention from its failures in the wake of the upcoming elections. It must be noted that these protests come at a time when the workers and the farmers of the nation have risen up in revolt against the neo-liberal policies of the central and state governments. The underlying objective is to preserve the upper caste Hindu ‘vote bank’ that is the foundation of the communal polarisation that the BJP wants to ensure at the time of elections. It is worth noting that the Karni Sena has already reminded the BJP that it is an important ‘vote bank’ that the BJP cannot choose to ignore.
AIDWA calls upon all progressive and democratic movements to jointly protest against the vicious trends unleashed by these right-wing forces, and also build up public and political pressure to punish those responsible for issuing illegal threats and disrupting the release of the film.