Category Archives: Culture

A feminist take on the Rani Padmavati-Bhansali controversy

By now you must be already aware of the attack on film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the sets of Rani Padmavati, the movie that he is making on the legendary Rajput queen.

The controversy broke when the prospect of some romantic scene between Allauddin Khilji and Rani Padmavati began to surface in various newspapers.

If you know the tragic story of Rani Padmavati you also know that she had to commit Jauhar because of Allauddin Khilji. Jauhar means jumping into a burning pyre to save yourself from a marauding army of rapists and plunderers. Although there are different opinions on whether she should have committed Jauhar or not – the confusion is mostly in the liberal circles – she is respected for her valor, and the legend is an integral part of the Rajput culture.

So obviously people were incensed that their beloved queen who died due to a barbarous villain, was being shown as having a soft spot for the villain. Whether Bhansali actually intended to do that isn’t clear because since then he has been denying it, the general perception was like that.

Since Rani Padmavati was a woman and she died, willingly, to save her honor, feminists are debating whether it is right to hero worship a woman who died to save her honor. What can be more worth saving than life itself, they say? Feminists are specially disturbed that honor-killing or honor-self-killing is again being extolled in the name of history and pride.

Keeping this issue in mind Neha Srivastava has published an article in DailyO titled “Allauddin Khilji harassed a woman. Romanticising his story is an insult to women“. In the article she recalls when she visited the historic Chittorgarh when she was 15 the story of the brave queen deeply affected her.

From a feminist angle she points out that the poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, who originally wrote “Padmavat”, totally objectifies Rani Padmavati by turning her into a mere object of desire. She writes:

Jayasi’s entire poem is a travesty in its own right, for all the male characters dominate the narrative and the main character Padmavati is reduced to nothing but an object to be desired and possessed. Her thoughts, her fears, her wishes, her hopes reduced to sidelines as a madman’s lust overcomes him so much so to preside over wanton murder. Why? Because a woman cannot say “NO”. Even if she does, it is of as little consequence then, as it is now.

It is a work of female objectification which I, as a woman, do not find romantic in any shape or form. Even when faced with the prospect of attack on her home and her people, the Rani says a vehement “NO”. But since a woman’s “No means Yes” since time immemorial, that doesn’t dissuade “lover boy” Khilji, who wanted another “possession” for his harem, where he could rape her whenever he wanted, use her to entertain guests and perhaps even trade her like a material possession.

Many commentators have remarked that the reason why Rani Padmavati doesn’t feature in official records even when Allauddin Khilji and her husband Ratan Singh do, is because it embarrasses the patriarchal mindset of both the sides. Historic chroniclers like Amir Khusro on Khilji’s side mention her just in the passing because it was embarrassing for Khilji to have lost her in front of his eyes even after having won the battle to capture her. On Ratan Singh’s side, it must had been humiliating to agree to show her reflection in the mirror to a lecherous emperor to avoid imminent bloodbath. This is what liberal feminists should object to, not whether, since her records are not there, it’s fine to twist her story according to one’s convenience or not, but, she not getting her rightful place in the recorded history of the country.

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The problem is not with the Hindu-Muslim culture but the secularism racket

Hindu Muslim unity

Every multi-cultural amalgamation gives rise to at least some sort of beauty. I have often written on my blog that the most beautiful and perhaps the most famous Bollywood bhajan Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj was written by Shakeel Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Nobody doubts that the coming together of Hindu-Muslim cultures has given rise to breathtakingly beautiful architecture, poetry to cherish for ever and instances of love and friendship legends are made of. Very few people doubt that.

So when noted Muslim writer Murad Ali Baig says

The fusion of Hindu and Muslim culture during Mughal times is a tradition all Indians could cherish.

Link

nobody should have a problem with that. So what’s the problem?

The problem is the phony secularism that has been thrust down the throats of unsuspecting people of the country in the name of vote bank politics. Minorities in India – mostly Muslims and Christians – are always portrayed as victims and the majority – Hindus – are perpetually portrayed as aggressive perpetrators and majoritarian bigots. They are constantly put on the back foot. This is where the problem arises and this is why the majority population feels cheated and enraged. When different religious communities are treated according to the sort of political benefits that they bring, secularism simply becomes a sham.

The leftist liberals in India are not actually liberal

In India people often get confused between who is liberal and who is not liberal. For example, people with leftist mentality of the like to call themselves liberal. Even people who support political parties like the Congress and to an extent even the casteist parties like the Samajwadi Party without hesitation post about being liberal. In fact, everybody but the people from the Right ideology can call himself or herself liberal without being contradicted.

Liberalism, as this article by Mehnaz Merchant rightly says, is about being open to all thoughts, lifestyles and ideologies, whether you personally agree with them or not.

Who exactly is a liberal? The first rule of liberalism is tolerance to different points of view. The second rule? Openness. The third: rejection of feudalism, casteism and communalism.

How do our politicians and opinion-makers fare when we apply these criteria? Most Indian Left-leaners call themselves liberals. But the Left is a didactic ideology. It resists change. It brooks no ideological dissent. India’s Left politicians still hanker after the Soviet economic model which has been discredited by every country except North Korea. Even China, the Indian Left’s old lodestar, has embraced free markets since 1979 when Deng Xiaoping changed the course of Chinese economic history.

In 1979, still under economic controls, Chinese GDP was $ 182 billion. Indian GDP in 1979 was $ 227 billion.

Cut to 2015.

Chinese GDP is $11.21 trillion, Indian GDP $2.31 trillion.

Why mythology sells in India

This blog post seems to have been written in a hurry, but it raises a very interesting question: why are Indians so obsessed with its mythological stories and why these stories are being told and retold in various forms?

First, I don’t think Indians are obsessed with mythology; many Indians are obsessed with religion and this somehow gets interconnected with the mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and second, to be frank, these stories are awesome. You can derive hundreds of stories, without even changing them, from just Ramayana and Mahabharata, leave alone other tales.

Regarding why they are being rewritten, I agree that originality lacks in the current milieu, and this is not just applicable to rewriting mythological literature. Classic Bollywood songs are remixed on a routine basis and even if they try to be original, they’re mostly mimicking sufi and folk music.

This lack of effort and originality has also permeated writing. It’s easier to tell a tale that already exists and people can relate to.

Mythological stories that have been a part of our culture have this strange effect: even if you listen to them or read them again and again, somehow you never find them boring. This may also be because mythological stories are rarely enjoyed in isolation. Millions of people, you’re consciously or unconsciously aware, have read these stories or one or another form of them. So there is an invisible connection with a large mass when you are reading these stories. You feel a part of a group, a part of a cult. Add a new writing style, some contextual twists and there you have got it, practically a new piece to sell to your readers.

Besides, very few countries have such a rich tapestry of mythological stories that don’t just deliver religious messages, but also teach you morality and human values, and are replete with heroism that everybody can relate to. For example, in Mahabharata it is sometimes very difficult to decide who is a hero and who is a villain; every sort of conflict you can find in its various plots. The line that divides good and evil is constantly being blurred. Ramayana, comparatively, has clear definitions of right and wrong, but on every occasion it teaches you how to take difficult decisions even when you don’t want to take them.

There is also an underlying effort to reconnect with one’s roots in India. The Indian culture is being attacked from the outside and from within and the younger generation, clueless about how to react, tries to cling to these stories as a defence mechanism.

The fundamental difference between Wendy Doniger and Joe D’Cruz censorship

Cruz Doniger

A couple of months ago Penguin India decided to pulp all the copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus. The contents of the book were deemed highly contentious by some people and a person named Dina Nath Batra had challenged the book in the court and in order to avoid legal complications the publishing house decided to pulp all the copies of the book. Clearly the multinational publishing house couldn’t stand behind the book confidently.

Another publishing company Navayana who is known to publish Dalit works has decided not to publish the Sahitya Akademi awardee Joe D’Cruz’s English version of the Tamil novel “Aazhi Soozh Ulagu” (Ocean Ringed World) because of the writer’s open support for Narendra Modi.

The readers of this blog will note that while highly objecting to the contents of The Hindus I have never recommended the banning of the book or pulping it. My recommendation was to counter it with another book or with another paper. This is how works of art, works of intellect must be met with if you don’t agree. Or you can simply ignore it hoping that not many people read it.

Navayana and the person who did the English translation haven’t rejected the book for its content, in fact they say that the content is superb and well-researched. Their problem is the writer’s support for Narendra Modi. This is how the English translator V. Geetha justifies the publisher’s stand:

“I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D’Cruz’s statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can’t forget Gujarat 2002-no one must be allowed to, either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life, and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation.”

I think she’s making a fair statement (not the “fascist and dangerous” part because here she is simply propagating divisiveness). You don’t want to associate with a person you don’t agree with. This is a highly polarised political atmosphere and the stakes are quite high on different ends of the spectrum. Extreme reactions are bound to happen. But that’s a different issue.

People who were trying to put the plight of both the authors in the same box are missing a big point. Wendy’s problem was intellectual dishonesty, Joe’s problem is his political stand. You may not agree with me, but the sole purpose of Wendy’s book was to denigrate the Hindu religion in every possible way. Her personal biases and agendas had percolated her work.

In Joe’s case he is not spreading his propaganda through his work. He is simply telling the story of the fishermen who live on the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. It is a story that in no way propagates a particular religious or political philosophy. Whatever might be the author’s political views he has not allowed his views to eclipse his intellectual articulation, which, sadly, Wendy allowed. By not publishing his book, the publisher is not harming Joe (there are plenty of publishers available these days and besides, you can always publish on your own), the publisher is harming the story and worse, the publisher is harming the seafaring community whose story can reach a wider audience with an English translation.

Perhaps they were planning to recruit an ideological author into their fold and when they realised that just because the author is writing about an issue they can relate to it doesn’t mean that politically they stand on the same line, they got jittery.