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Padmaavat Reinforces Negative Stereotypes of Muslim Rule in India

Famed Bollywood producer Sajay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat is a fictionalized portrayal of a Rajput queen Padmavati, played by Deepika Pudokone, whose earliest mention is found in a 16th century epic poem by a Muslim poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. With the movie Padmaavat's (Padmavati's) musical score and the song and dance sequences and the opulence and the splendor of the costumes, the jewelry and the sets, it's safe to say that the fans of Bhansali's earlier Bollywood blockbusters like Bajirao Mastani and Devdas will not be disappointed. It looks particularly spectacular when watched in 3D-IMAX version-- something my wife and I experienced in a local Silicon Valley multiplex.

Released amidst death threats by right wing Hindu groups,  one would have expected that the movie in some way challenges the revisionist history being promoted by the ruling BJP's ideologues.

Surprisingly, the movie Padmaavat  reinforces the current Hindutva narrative about the Muslim rulers of India. It portrays Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sulatanate, played by Ranveer Singh, as a violent and lustful man lacking any scruples, fitting in with the current wave of Islamophobia in India. On the other hand, his Hindu Rajput counterpart Maharawal Ratan Singh, played by Shahid Kapoor, is shown as an honorable and principled person.

The story appears to glorify the act of mass suicide by Rajput Hindu women by self-immolation in the name of honor....an idea that the Karni Sena opposing it picked up by threatening mass self-immolation by 1700 women in protest if the film is released. It begs the question: Why should only women commit this mass suicide in protest? Why not the men of the Karni Sena?

Meanwhile, it remains a mystery as to how a fictional Hindu queen first mentioned in a poem by a 16th century Muslim poet has become the symbol of honor for Rajputs in the 21st century.  For this, one must understand the larger underlying trend in Indian polity today with the rise of Hindutva under right-wing Hindu Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.

American historian Audrey Truschke, in her recently published book "Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King", attributes today's Hindutva revisionist history to the colonial-era British historians. She says they deliberately distorted the history of Indian Muslim rule to vilify Muslim rulers as part of the British policy to divide and conquer India. These misrepresentations of Muslim rule made during the British Raj appear to have been accepted as fact not just by Islamophobic Hindu Nationalists but also by at least some of the secular Hindus in India and Muslim intellectuals in present day Pakistan, says the author.  Aurangzeb was neither a saint nor a villain; he was a man of his time who should be judged by the norms of his times and compared with his contemporaries, the author adds.

Alauddin Khilji, portrayed in Padmaavat as a villain, was in fact neither an angel nor a devil; he was a man of his time who should be judged by the norms of his times and compared with his contemporaries.  Colonial-era British historians deliberately distorted the history of Indian Muslim rule to vilify Muslim rulers as part of their policy to divide and conquer India, according to American history professor Audrey Truschke. Professor Truschke has systematically dismantled all the myths about India's Muslim rulers as hateful and bigoted tyrants who engaged in rape and pillage of Hindus and carried out widespread destruction of Hindu temples across India. Hindu Nationalists led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are using false history to justify their hatred and violence against Indian Muslims today.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on January 30, 2018 at 3:53pm

How Hindu nationalists devoured India

Shikha Dalmia

http://theweek.com/articles/750971/how-hindu-nationalists-devoured-...

Loosely based on an epic poem by a 16th century Muslim Sufi poet, the movie's cinematic sophistication — it is shot in 3-D with absolutely breathtaking scenes of courtly pomp set in medieval India — contrasts sharply with its crude and cartoonish characters. The film isn't a clash between mere good and evil, but utmost perfection and complete depravity as embodied by Singh, the Hindu hero, and Khilji, the Muslim villain.

The Hindu Singh, with his buff bod and kohl-smeared eyes, is a paragon of Rajput virtue who treats women like queens (of which he has two), moves with grace, deals with matters of state with flawless judgment, conducts himself with decorum, and fights with valor and integrity. Twice he foregoes the opportunity to kill the unarmed Khilji because that would have meant violating the Rajput code of honor.

The Muslim Khilji, by contrast, is not just dastardly, but a savage lech. He is a sadist who gets a sexual high from humiliating his minions. On the day of his wedding, he is off jumping other women. He is cruel toward family and friends and happily turns on them for the slightest advantage. He doesn't dine from shining utensils sitting serenely in the traditional lotus position like the cultured Rajputs. He hunches over a table grabbing large pieces of meat with his bare hands, tearing the flesh with his teeth.

And he believes that for victory in war, no tactic is too ignoble. After killing Singh on the battlefield through treachery, he races to claim his prize. But Padmaavati, herself a paragon of virtue, calmly leads 800 women into a fiery cauldron in an act of mass self-immolation that Rajput widows were expected to perform to protect their — and their husbands' — honor. (This dénouement has rightly incensed Indian feminists struggling against traditional attitudes that measure a woman's worth by her devotion to her husband.)

It is not clear that Padmaavati ever existed, but Singh and Khilji were real historical figures and, unsurprisingly, much more nuanced than the movie's ridiculous caricatures. But literally every Hindu in the film, except the king's Brahmin tutor, is upright, humane, and decent — and every Muslim, but for Khilji's wife, is craven, randy, and slothful.

Such demeaning portrayals would be controversial under any circumstances. But today, when Muslims (and other religious minorities) are under siege in India, they are downright irresponsible.

Casual bigotry against Muslims has always existed in India. But since Modi assumed office, the situation has gotten considerably worse. Hindu nationalism's singular project is to restore Hindu pride and identity by avenging historic harms, real and imagined, inflicted on Hindus by "Muslim invaders" who ruled the country for centuries.

Lynching of Muslims suspected of consuming beef — which is taboo for Hindus — have become commonplace. And in recent years, paranoid Hindus have taken to accusing Muslim men of engaging in "love jihad" — or converting Hindu women by seducing them into marriage. (Christians face analogous allegations.) Hardly a day goes by when Hindu thugs don't beat up a Hindu-Muslim couple somewhere in the country. Last month, a court actually annulled a marriage between a Muslim man and a 25-year-old Hindu woman in med school. The court concluded that a woman of her station and background could not possibly in her right mind have consented to such a nuptial without being "brainwashed," her protestations that she was in love with her husband notwithstanding.

Given all of this, you would probably think that Muslims would be protesting this movie, directed by a Hindu with an all-Hindu cast, for feeding every single rabid anti-Muslim stereotype. Instead, it is Hindu extremists who have taken to the streets.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 10, 2018 at 12:07pm

#India Should Be Grateful to Alauddin #Khilji for Thwarting the #Mongol Invasions. Mongol success would have completely destroyed #Hindu civilization. #Padmavati #PadmavatiControversy https://thewire.in/203518/india-grateful-alauddin-khilji-thwarting-... … via @thewire_in

At a time when most of the medieval world was laid waste by the brutality of the Mongol armies, Khilji kept India – and its culture and civilisation – safe.

What is not well-known, however, is that Khilji, for all his faults, saved India from a fate much worse than even his own oppressive rule – that of the murderous Mongols, who tried to invade the Indian subcontinent six times during his reign as the sultan of Delhi, and failed miserably, thanks to his brilliance as a general, the quality, discipline, and bravery of his army and its commanders, and their superior military tactics.

What the Mongol invaders inflicted on Persia, the Caliphate of Baghdad, Russia, and elsewhere is well documented – genocide, the destruction of infrastructure, and the destruction of native culture, literature, and religious institutions. Their habit of leaving conquered countries as wastelands that would not spring back for at least a hundred years, and their tendency to rule even the regions they settled in, such as Russia, in an exploitative and backward way, are well-known to historians and laypersons alike.

Against this backdrop, one can safely argue that Alauddin Khilji, for all his faults, actually saved the syncretic culture of the Indian subcontinent of that time – which included Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain subcultures – from enormous destruction, even if preserving the culture of India may not have been what motivated his resistance to the Mongols.

Indeed, Khilji is a classic study in the layered and complex nature of historical figures whom it is impossible to portray in the black-and-white terms that modern politics seems to demand. Khilji is rightly viewed negatively for his cruelty and brutality; but he should also, in fairness, be seen as the saviour of Hindustan that he unwittingly ended up being, by repelling the formidable and ruthless Mongol hordes.

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For the past month, Rajasthan has been convulsed by a controversy over the Bollywood movie, Padmavati, based on Padmavat – a prose-poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE which uses Alauddin Khilji’s conquest of Chittor in 1303 CE and his supposed obsession with Rani Padmini of Chittor as a backdrop for its ficitional tale.

None of the politicians and activists accusing the film maker of denigrating the honour of the Rajput queen of Chittor, Padmini, and glorifying the “Muslim conqueror Khilji” has even seen the film yet.

Much of the controversy is fuelled by ill-feeling towards Khilji, based on the fact that he was an oppressive ruler to his subjects, who were mostly Hindu. So the possibility of romance – or even unrequited love – between a Muslim “villain” and a Hindu queen being depicted on screen, even as a fantasy, as has been rumoured, infuriates Hindu right-wing groups.

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