10 kilometres from Jaipur, the Jaigarh Fort stands tall and proud. 3 km long and 1 km wide, the fort has stood the test of time for nearly three war-torn centuries. Jaigarh Fort houses the world’s largest cannon on wheels, a majestic palace complex, and an assembly hall of warriors known as ‘Shubhat Niwas’ along with a museum and an armoury. It has witnessed over 400 battles and sieges in its long history, has been nicknamed the ‘Victory Fort’ by locals, and is a favourite tourist destination in the area.
On 27 January 2017, the Victory Fort was the site of an act of great cowardice.
What happened on 27 January?
Mumbai film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali began work on a historical drama film in July 2016. On 27 January, he was shooting the film with his crew at the Jaigarh Fort. The film is based on the life of Padmavati, a Rajput queen who lived during the 13th and 14 centuries.
A local Rajput group named the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (RKS) descended on Bhansali’s film set at 12:30 PM on 27 January 2017, and raised slogans and hurled abuses at the film crew for (what they viewed as) distorting historical facts. The mob soon overwhelmed private security personnel, physically assaulted Bhansali, and proceeded to destroy the film set.
Bhansali was pulled by the hair and roughed up. Police personnel soon arrived on the scene to pacify the mob. According to reports, the police also set-up closed doors meeting between Bhansali and the RKS.
Five protesters were arrested under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Bhansali has increased security around the actors in his movie and discontinued shooting after the incident. A day later, police released the five protesters who had been arrested.
Who was Padmavati?
In the late 13th century, North India was mainly divided between the Delhi Sultanate and Rajput kingdoms. The Delhi Sultanate was being ruled by its second dynasty – the Khilji dynasty.
The existence of Padmavati is up for debate: some opine that she was a heroine in fiction, others argue that she was a historical figure. Either way, Padmavati was a Rajput queen of legendary beauty. It is said that the ruler of Chittor, after hearing of her beauty from a talking parrot, rode to win her hand in marriage. He succeeded and brought Padmavati to Chittor.
The then ruler of the Delhi Sultanate was Alauddin Khilji. Khilji, upon hearing of Padmavati’s beauty, attacked Chittor. Fighting an uphill battle, the Rajputs were on the road to being defeated by Khilji’s forces. Before Chittor could fall to Khilji, Padmavati and her female companions committed Jauhar – the Rajput tradition of suicide by self-immolation to avoid dishonour at the hands of the enemy.
Padmavati has been the subject of many literary works. She was first mentioned in a 1540 Hindi epic poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Since then, she has been portrayed in films, TV shows, plays, and operas. She has been depicted by artists from France to Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu. During the years of the Indian Independence Movement, she was characterised as a patriot who chose death over dishonour. Moreover, religious groups have hailed Padmavati for her chastity and as a model Hindu woman and queen who defended her honour against a Muslim invader.
The vandals’ arguments
The group’s arguments have been that filmmakers should not distort historical facts. Padmavati, in particular, is a local icon. The RKS has alleged that Bhansali has corrupted Rajput history by adding elements of romance between Padmavati and Khilji.
The founder of the RKS told the press that, “Until Mr Bhansali clarifies how he is planning to depict the historical events of Chittorgarh Fort, we will not allow him to shoot for the film here.”
The film crew’s arguments
Bhansali and his team have said that there is no dream sequence or any objectionable scene between Padmavati and Khilji.
The crew released a statement on the incident: “Sanjay Leela Bhansali has shot two films in Jaipur, and despite his love for Rajasthan, for the safety of his crew, we have decided to stop the shoot and leave the city post the shocking incident where miscreants damaged property and misbehaved with the crew on the shoot of ‘Padmavati’. We clarify that there is no dream sequence or any objectionable scene between Rani Padmavati and Allauddin Khilji. We have been carefully researching and making the film. In spite of this, the attack on the shoot and crew was uncalled for and was extremely damaging to the image of the beautiful city of Jaipur. We are grateful to the authorities at Jaipur who responded promptly and limited the damage on the shoot. We do not want to hurt any sentiments and would appreciate if the local people support us in making this film and making their queen revered by the world.”
The State government’s reaction
The Rajasthan Home Minister said that the anger displayed by the mob was “instinctive” before added that “people should approach the police if they have some grievance.” He told ANI, “Any action on a personal level is not right. A probe will be initiated in the matter.”
The long history of vandalism by the RKS
The Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the group which attacked Bhansali’s film set, was formed in 2006. The RKS deems “opposing distortion of history” as one of the ways to ensure the welfare of Rajputs. It claims to have over 7 lakh registered members across Rajasthan. It also claims to be active in over 22,000 villages.
The outfit a history of denouncing and attacking screen adaptations of Rajput personalities. In 2008, they denounced Ashutosh Gowariker’s movie, Jodhaa Akbar. Similarly, in 2013, they criticised Ekta Kapoor’s television serial Jodhaa Akbar. Their demonstrations in 2013 led to Kapoor announcing that the show would be amended accordingly.
The Logical Indian take
Vandalism and mob mentality are detrimental to democracy. The goons – and they were goons – who assaulted Sanjay Leela Bhansali and destroyed his film set are self-righteous lawbreakers and hatemongers. The State authorities should deal with the RKS strictly and sternly. Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows for those charged to be kept under arrest even with no official complaint filed; the release of the five people by the police after only one day sets a destructive precedent.
The problem here is not whether Padmavati’s portrayal was wrong or right: the problem is mobs taking the law into their hands. If the RKS has an issue with the depiction of Padmavati, they should make their case to the courts, write about it or protest nonviolently. They have no right to take the law into their own hands.
Nothing – nothing – can justify vandalism and violence.
There is nothing above the law of the land. What happened in Jaigarh Fort on 27 January was a travesty and a disgrace. The goons should be held accountable to the law.