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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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Views: 119

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.

-------------


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.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 6, 2018 at 10:51am

By rewriting history, #Hindu nationalists lay claim to #India. #Modi has appointed committee of #Hindutva "scholars" to change #India's national identity to one based on #Hindu religion. #Islamophobia #Pakistan http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/india-modi-culture … via @SpecialReports

By RUPAM JAIN and TOM LASSETER Filed March 6, 2018, 11 a.m. GMT

NEW DELHI - During the first week of January last year, a group of Indian scholars gathered in a white bungalow on a leafy boulevard in central New Delhi. The focus of their discussion: how to rewrite the history of the nation.

The government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi had quietly appointed the committee of scholars about six months earlier. Details of its existence are reported here for the first time.

Minutes of the meeting, reviewed by Reuters, and interviews with committee members set out its aims: to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.

Interviews with members of the 14-person committee and ministers in Modi’s government suggest the ambitions of Hindu nationalists extend beyond holding political power in this nation of 1.3 billion people - a kaleidoscope of religions. They want ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus.

In doing so, they are challenging a more multicultural narrative that has dominated since the time of British rule, that modern-day India is a tapestry born of migrations, invasions and conversions. That view is rooted in demographic fact. While the majority of Indians are Hindus, Muslims and people of other faiths account for some 240 million, or a fifth, of the populace.

The committee’s chairman, K.N. Dikshit, told Reuters, “I have been asked to present a report that will help the government rewrite certain aspects of ancient history.” The committee’s creator, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, confirmed in an interview that the group’s work was part of larger plans to revise India’s history.

For India’s Muslims, who have pointed to incidents of religious violence and discrimination since Modi took office in 2014, the development is ominous. The head of Muslim party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, said his people had “never felt so marginalised in the independent history of India.”

“The government,” he said, “wants Muslims to live in India as second-class citizens.”

Modi did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

INTO THE CLASSROOM

Helping to drive the debate over Indian history is an ideological, nationalist Hindu group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It helped sweep Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to power in 2014 and now counts among its members the ministers in charge of agriculture, highways and internal security.

The RSS asserts that ancestors of all people of Indian origin - including 172 million Muslims - were Hindu and that they must accept their common ancestry as part of Bharat Mata, or Mother India. Modi has been a member of the RSS since childhood. An official biography of Culture Minister Sharma says he too has been a “dedicated follower” of the RSS for many years.

Referring to the emblematic colour of the Hindu nationalist movement, RSS spokesman Manmohan Vaidya told Reuters that “the true colour of Indian history is saffron and to bring about cultural changes we have to rewrite history.”

Balmukund Pandey, the head of the historical research wing of the RSS, said he meets regularly with Culture Minister Sharma. “The time is now,” Pandey said, to restore India’s past glory by establishing that ancient Hindu texts are fact not myth.

Sharma told Reuters he expects the conclusions of the committee to find their way into school textbooks and academic research. The panel is referred to in government documents as the committee for “holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world.”

Sharma said this “Hindu first” version of Indian history will be added to a school curriculum which has long taught that people from central Asia arrived in India much more recently, some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and transformed the population.

Hindu nationalists and senior figures in Modi’s party reject the idea that India was forged from a mass migration. They believe that today’s Hindu population is directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants. Historian Romila Thapar said the question of who first stood on the soil was important to nationalists because “if the Hindus are to have primacy as citizens in a Hindu Rashtra (kingdom), their foundational religion cannot be an imported one.” To assert that primacy, nationalists need to claim descent from ancestors and a religion that were indigenous, said Thapar, 86, who taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi for decades and has authored books on ancient Indian history.

The theory of an influx of people from central Asia 3,000 to 4,000 years ago was embraced during British rule.

India’s first post-independence leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, who promoted a secular state and tolerance of India’s Muslims, said it was “entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” That outlook informed the way India was governed by Nehru and then by his Congress party for more than half a century. The rights of minorities - including the prohibition of discrimination based on religion - are enshrined in India’s constitution, of which Nehru was a signatory in 1950.

Shashi Tharoor, a prominent member of the Congress party, said right wing Hindus are “leading a political campaign over Indian history that seeks to reinvent the idea of India itself.”

“For seven decades after independence, Indianness rested on faith in the country’s pluralism,” Tharoor said, but the rise of Hindu nationalism had brought with it a “sense of cultural superiority.”


RISING TIDE: Shashi Tharoor, above, a parliamentary deputy from India's main opposition Congress party, said the rise of Hindu nationalism had brought with it a “sense of cultural superiority.” REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

A HISTORY FOUNDED ON HINDU TEXTS

The history committee met in the offices of the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India, a federal body that oversees archaeological research. Among the committee’s 14 members are bureaucrats and academics. The chairman, Dikshit, is a former senior official with the Archaeological Survey.

Culture Minister Sharma told Reuters he will present the committee’s final report to parliament and lobby the nation’s Ministry of Human Resource Development to write the findings into school textbooks. That ministry, which is responsible for education and literacy programmes, is also headed by an adherent of the RSS, Prakash Javadekar.

“We will take every recommendation made by the Culture Ministry seriously,” Javadekar said. “Our government is the first government to have the courage to even question the existing version of history that is being taught in schools and colleges.”

According to the minutes of the history committee’s first meeting, Dikshit, the chairman, said it was “essential to establish a correlation” between ancient Hindu scriptures and evidence that Indian civilization stretches back many thousands of years. Doing so would help bolster both conclusions the committee wants to reach: that events described in Hindu texts are real, and today’s Hindus are descendants of those times.

The minutes and interviews with committee members lay out a comprehensive campaign to achieve this, including the dating of archaeological sites and DNA testing of human remains.


FAITH AND POLITICS: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since childhood. Above, Modi is seen arriving in Sri Lanka in May, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

“Our government is the first government to have the courage to even question the existing version of history that is being taught in schools and colleges.”

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Human Resource Development

Culture Minister Sharma told Reuters he wants to establish that Hindu scriptures are factual accounts. Speaking of the Ramayana, the epic that follows the journey of a Hindu deity in human form, Sharma said: “I worship Ramayana and I think it is a historical document. People who think it is fiction are absolutely wrong.”  The epic tells how the god Rama rescues his wife from a demon king. It still informs many Indians’ sense of gender roles and duty.

Sharma said it was a priority to prove through archaeological research the existence of a mystical river, the Saraswati, that is mentioned in another ancient scripture, the Vedas. Other projects include examining artifacts from locations in scriptures, mapping the dates of astrological events mentioned in these texts and excavating the sites of battles in another epic, the Mahabharata, according to Sharma and minutes of the committee’s meeting.

In much the same way that some Christians point to evidence of an ancient flood substantiating the Biblical tale of Noah and his ark, if the settings and features of the ancient scriptures in India can be verified, the thinking goes, then the stories are true. “If the Koran and Bible are considered as part of history, then what is the problem in accepting our Hindu religious texts as the history of India?” said Sharma.


MUSLIM MINORITY: A Muslim boy learns to read the Koran at a madrassa, or religious school, during the holy month of Ramadan, on the outskirts of Agartala in May, 2017. There are 172 million Muslims in India. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

Modi did not order the committee’s creation - it was instigated by Sharma, government documents show - but its mission is in keeping with his outlook. During the 2014 inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, Modi pointed to the scientific achievements documented by ancient religious texts and spoke of Ganesha, a Hindu deity with an elephant’s head: “We worship Lord Ganesha, and maybe there was a plastic surgeon at that time who kept the head of an elephant on the torso of a human. There are many areas where our ancestors made large contributions.” Modi did not respond to a request from Reuters that he expand on this remark.

Nine of 12 history committee members interviewed by Reuters said they have been tasked with matching archaeological and other evidence with ancient Indian scriptures, or establishing that Indian civilization is much older than is widely known. The others confirmed their membership but declined to discuss the group’s activities. The committee includes a geologist, archaeologists, scholars of the ancient Sanskrit language and two bureaucrats.

One of the Sanskrit scholars, Santosh Kumar Shukla, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Reuters he believes India’s Hindu culture is millions of years old. Another committee member, Ramesh Chand Sharma, former head of the linguistics department at the University of Delhi, said he would take a strictly scientific approach. “I don’t subscribe to any ideology,” he said.


FOUNDING FATHER: A visitor stands next to a portrait of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inside the Nehru memorial museum and library in New Delhi in Sept. 2015. Nehru promoted tolerance of India’s Muslims and said it was misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

With an annual budget of about $400 million - an important source of federal funding for historical research, archaeology and the arts - the Culture Ministry is an influential place to start a campaign of historical revision.

After he was named culture minister in 2014 following Modi’s victory, Sharma, a doctor and chairman of a chain of hospitals, said he received guidance from the RSS. Sharma, a genial man with a wide smile, has a portrait of Bharat Mata, or Mother India, hanging above the doorway of a meeting room in his bungalow in central Delhi. Below it are portraits of past RSS leaders.



During the last three years, Sharma said, his ministry has organized hundreds of workshops and seminars across the country “to prove the supremacy of our glorious past.” The aim, he said, is to build a fresh narrative to balance the liberal and secular philosophy espoused by India’s first prime minister, Nehru, and furthered by successive governments for most of the nation’s post-independence history.

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, now controlled by Sharma’s ministry, these days mixes in sessions about right wing Hindu leaders and causes. At one such event in 2016, the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, took the opportunity to lambast Nehru as a man influenced by the western world. “We have always believed that our policies should have the smell of Indian soil,” Shah said. It was time for a history of India that concentrates on “facts about our great past.”



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