Padmaavat and Muslims as the Perpetual Punching Bag

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Members of Sri Rajput Karni Sena shout slogans during a massive protest rally against Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie Padmaavat, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. — File photo

What really worries me – as it should every Indian who loves his/her country and desires its wellbeing – is the hate and ill will all this is generating between the Hindus and Muslims. Being taught those textbooks and perpetually bombarded with hate in films and on television, even Muslim children would grow up hating their own ancestors.

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Caravan Daily

IF ANYONE should be going ballistic over Padmavati – sorry, Padmaavat – the spectacular cinematic tribute to Rajput valor (obviously decent, virtuous Hindus) and crass demonization of Emperor Alauddin Khilji (the archetype of marauding, meat-gorging, horny invaders!), it is Muslims. Why’s Karni Sena, pray, going on the rampage, burning down multiplexes and malls and turning the whole country upside down?

This when bowing to the diktats of these defenders of Hindu pride, the filmmaker has already changed the title from ‘Padmavati’ to ‘Padmaavat’. It was only after the Supreme Court intervened that the film got released after repeated delays albeit it remains a ‘no show’ in many northern states.

Those who have watched the film found it so utterly reverential to the Rajputs and so demeaning to Khilji that it’s perplexing why the assorted nuts have been thirsting for Bhansali’s blood.

As Anjana Kashyap of India Today puts it, it is as if the Karni Sena whispered Padmaavat’s plot into Bhansali’s ear!

So what if Padmaavat is a deliberate distortion of history, just as many such period films, including Jodha Akbar, and television serials in the recent past have been?

In fact, the beautiful Rajput princess Padmavati never existed except in the imagination of Awadhi poet Malik Mohammed Jayasi.

And most of the valiant Rajput chieftains, except Rana Pratap Singh, never put up a fight against the Delhi sultans and Mughals. Many of them joined the ‘enemy’ against their own. Hindu Rajputs and Muslim Mughals even inter-married. Indeed, Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan had been the sons of proud Rajput mothers.

As for Khilji, he was anything but a savage barbarian and womanizer. Poet Amir Khusro, a contemporary, offers a detailed account of his reign. India’s first emperor, it was Khilji’s bravery that spared the country ruination at the hands of the Mongols.

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Far from presenting historical facts accurately, Bhansali doesn’t even do justice to Jayasi’s romantic epic. Which is fine, I suppose. Filmmakers and storytellers enjoy a creative license. They hardly claim to be faithful chroniclers of history.

But should they degenerate into deliberate vilification of a whole community as bloodthirsty savages who live to kill, rape and eat, as Padmaavat and movies of this genre suggest?

It is not just cinema. Of late, there has been a deluge of such dramas on television too with everyone making the most of the hate fest roiling India these days.

Perhaps taking cue from the reigning order, these ‘historical’ storytellers claim to present the stories of Indian heroes. Almost always they are pitted against “fanatical Muslim invaders” with their regulation endless beards and violent tempers.

Even in a period drama like ‘Porus’ on Sony that tackles Alexander the Great’s attack, which happened centuries before Christ when the Muslims didn’t even exist, there are ubiquitous references to ‘foreign invaders’ who look and speak like you know who.

From willful and dangerous distortion of history in films and television to misrepresentation of historical facts in textbooks, there is a desperation to turn back the clock and rewrite the past, playing havoc with impressionable, young minds.

Medieval Muslim rulers are routinely panned as bloodthirsty barbarians who kill their subjects, destroy temples and are on an evangelical mission to convert all Hindus.

Although no shred of historical evidence exists to support these claims and fallacies, authored by orientalists, they have been wholeheartedly embraced and are routinely peddled by the Right.

If had been any truth in these claims, India would have been a Muslim country today. Instead of plundering and sucking it dry as the British did, Muslims made India their home, taking it to the heights of glory. India became the richest and largest economy in the world under the Mughals. You have to be blind to miss the Muslim imprint on every facet of Indian life.

Churchill said history is written by the victors.  One wouldn’t lose sleep over it if this ‘Otherisation’ of Muslims had been only limited to historical inaccuracies.

What really worries me – as it should every Indian who loves his/her country and desires its wellbeing – is the hate and ill will all this is generating between the Hindus and Muslims. Being taught those textbooks and perpetually bombarded with hate in films and on television, even Muslim children would grow up hating their own ancestors.

After all this vilification of a voiceless, dispossessed minority, coupled with the propaganda of love jihad and multiplying Muslims, who are loyal to Pakistan and forever lusting after the cow and fair Hindu women, would you be surprised if Muslims are increasingly being hunted like animals?

You reap as you sow. The Parivar’s persistent efforts over the past century have begun to bear results. The Muslims have become total strangers in their own country and driven to the margins of Indian society after more than 1200 years of existence in India.

What’s remarkable about this unprecedented phenomenon is the fact that the Muslims, who ruled India for nearly a thousand years, are at the bottom of the heap, according to every social and economic indicator.

As many government commissions and studies have acknowledged, the largest minority is easily the most deprived and disadvantaged in the country, even more backward than the low-caste Dalits. Still blamed for the Partition and reeling from tragedies like the Babri Masjid demolition, the community has learnt to keep a low profile, curiously content in its abject poverty and ghettos.

For a community of nearly 200 million people, Muslims have little presence in Parliament and state assemblies. The BJP takes pride in the fact that it did not field a single Muslim candidate in the recent assembly elections for Gujarat and Haryana.  Again, not one Muslim was fielded in Uttar Pradesh, which boasts more than 20% Muslims in a population of 200 million.

There are around 2% Muslims in elite Indian Administrative Services. The same goes for the armed forces and police.  On the other hand, they have highest representation in jails, far more than their 15% share in population.

Yet this pathetic minority is painted as the ‘clear and present danger’ to India and not just by the Parivar.  The Indian media is obsessed with the ‘M’ factor, tapping into the inexplicable insecurities of the majority.

From Pakistan-trained terrorists to madrassas being used as terror nurseries to the spectres of love jihad and triple talaq, apparently Indian society is perpetually threatened by its Muslims.

In the face of all this sweetness and light, Indian Muslim leadership appears curiously clueless. Let alone evolving a strategy to tackle the challenges facing the community, few of them appear aware of the world falling apart around them.

It is a depressing state of affairs, to say the least. Not very different from what the Muslims faced in Spain centuries ago after their 700-year long reign that enriched Europe and Western civilization. Today, there is not a single believer left in Spain; nor a mosque left standing.  No wonder the Parivar often looks to Spain for inspiration.

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former newspaper editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com)     

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