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.