The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who has never been abroad. He knew that I had worked in the Gulf for about 10 years.  During the course of our conversation, he said that it must be lovely to live in countries with real freedom as in his opinion, one could not do in India as one pleased.

Disagreeing with the gentleman, I quipped back that he was highly mistaken as it was only in India that one could do exactly what he wanted. Taken aback, he said that he didn’t believe it.

To convince my friend, I asked him to pick up any newspaper from any part of the country and in any language of his choice. All newspapers are filled with news of every form of crime imaginable, tales of apathy and official indifference. Added to this is the unparliamentary use of language even from people who matter, except for some very cultured, polished and educated people. Then I asked him if he would find such freedom in any other country? The freedom to loot, kill, rape and burn, in short, cause chaos and mayhem. No, you have this freedom only in India.

Other countries seem more attractive because there, freedom is tampered with law and order and any slight digression from the rules is dealt strictly with full force of the law. Here, law is existent but it is not implemented as it ought to be. Of course, people there do not live in a utopia as no human society is perfect but the point that I am trying to make is that in those societies, law is supreme and no one can take it one’s hands or play with it.

As humans evolved and their societies became more complex, people became civil, law abiding and peaceful, in the process, letting go of their wild sides. With the spread of education, they began to respect others’ point of views and if they had a dispute, go to a court of law and be done with it.

Also Read: Intolerance In India – A Myth Or Reality (An Opinion) | Ser 2.1

As literacy rate grew in India to reach nearly 70% as of today, some sort of reversal happened in our mental outlook. Today, we wear branded clothes, eat and party at fancy restaurants, have Apple devices and drive around in Audis, BMW and Mercedes but we cannot tolerate our fools.

If somebody drives past me at a fast clip, I’ll chase him, make him stop, stick a gun to his head, slap him a few times to make him see reason and send a few choicest expletives his way to teach him some manners.

Things have come to such a pass because we fail to understand that being literate does not make us educated. An educated person is the one who lets other person do what he wants and get on with his life. If he listens to you, its OK and if he doesn’t, its doubly OK. After all, it is his life and he is, by law, entitled to do whatever he wants to do with it. You or your views don’t matter. Period!!!

In this context, let’s take a look at an issue (or a non-issue) which has taken a lot of print and visual media space for the last 13 months or so. It is the row surrounding the film ‘Padmavati’ directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and produced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

The film, reportedly drawn from Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jaisi’s epic poem Padmavat, has been in the eye of the storm for the whole year, held hostage, as it was, by various aggrieved religious and political organisations, with the protests peaking and threatening to turn violent in the run-up to its release.

The troubles for Padmavati began during the shoot itself in January, with Shri Rajput Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajputs, damaging the sets at Jaigarh Fort in Jaipurand assaulting the director. As the shoot was disrupted and further shooting was not possible, sets were shifted to Kolhapur. Here too, vandalism and hooliganism took place in March.

Padmavati sets vandalised in Kolhapur Maharashtra
Activists burn sanjay leela bhansalis padmavati set in Kolhapur in March -2017 (File Photo)

Other groups like Jai Rajputana Sangh wanted their shots at infamy and joined the protests. All this while, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani kept promising a safe passage for the film.

As the film’s release date drew near, protests intensified and took on an ominous form. In October, a Surat artist’s rangoli which featured the film’s lead actress Deepika Padukone was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, protests had spread to various towns, cities and states. On 19 November 2017, the producers decided to voluntarily defer the December 1 release of the film.

The Karni Sena claimed that the film distorts facts and hurts their pride and sentiments — the queen shown dancing without a ghunghat (veil), allegations of an intimate dream scene between her and the villain of the piece, Alauddin Khilji.

In the midst of all this, a debate raged on the sidelines about whether Rani Padmavati or Padmini was for real or just a figure of legends and myths, a figment of the poet’s imagination and not a historical entity.

A section of historians doubt the existence of the queen and say she is a fictional character first portrayed in a 16th-century poem as having committed jauhar, the medieval practice in which female royals walked into funeral fires to embrace death over the dishonour of being taken captive.

Incensed Rajput groups staged violent protests, allegedly over rumours that Bhansali included a romantic scene between the queen and Alauddin Khilji. The director, meanwhile, clarified that the two characters don’t feature together in any scene.

karni sena
One of the many protests organized by the members of the Karni Sena (File Photo)

A few weeks ago, the Karni Sena called for a ban on the film, threatening to burn down theatres and called a countrywide bandh on December 1, the film’s original date of release. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab decided to disallow the screening of the film, even as it awaited certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Meanwhile, the CBFC’s chief Prasoon Joshi returned the film, citing the 68-day rule (films should be submitted to the CBFC at least 68 days before release). As the film was still not certified, it’s screening for select media persons and getting endorsed by them further piqued the CBFC.

This brings us to one pertinent question. When the protestors were asking to be shown the film, the filmmakers didn’t comply but were more than happy to show it to the people of their choice. Were they right or not? I am sure, this question doesn’t have any easy answer.

Another question is the one of continued threats and censorship imposed on films by extra-constitutional bodies and States. The list comprises of films such as Aandhi, Kissa Kursi Ka, Nasbandi, Tamas,Vishwaroopam, The Da Vinci Code, Parzania and many more. At times like these when common sense has failed to prevail, the judiciary came to the rescue of films and drilled sense into the protestors.

During this time, the Karni Sena went to the Supreme Court to seek a ban on the film but their plea was dismissed. The Apex Court made it clear that it wanted the CBFC to come to an independent and considered decision on certifying the movie.

Looking at the sensitivity of the issue involved and its outreach, the makers of Padmavati showed the film to select historians and others, invited by the CBFC, where some suggestions were made and accepted.

The film would henceforth be called ‘Padmavat’ and two disclaimers would be put in the film that it is a work of fiction and does not, in any way, tries to denigrate or hurt the pride of Rajputs. Satisfied, the film was given a certificate and would get an all India release on 25 January.

The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, citing law and order issues, approached the Supreme Court for amending its own order of 18 January.  On 23 January, the bench headed by CJI Deepak Mishra dismissed the pleas of these state governments along with those of Sri Karni Sena and Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha and paved the way for the release of the film.

In its order, the Court said that people must understand that it is the Court’s order and that it is to be complied with at all costs. No one is being forced to watch the film and whosoever does not like it, let him not watch it.

This was the point which I was trying to make. We are all sensible people who understand what is wrong and what is right. If we feel somewhere that someone’s action may hurt our ego or sense of pride, try to make him understand your point of view. Hopefully, he/she will understand.

If not, try to swallow your pride and if that’s a bit too hard, approach a court and be happy with whatever decision they take. At least, let’s not turn our nation into a battleground.

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