What Karni Sena withdrawing protest against Padmaavat reveals about them

DailyBiteFeb 04, 2018 | 11:55

What Karni Sena withdrawing protest against Padmaavat reveals about them

After watching Padmaavat, Karni Sena says it “glorifies Rajputs”

The absurd admixture of the inevitable yet the impossible has happened. After almost a year of rampage, violence, threats and assault on individuals like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the Rajput Karni Sena has realised that the film Padmaavat, originally Padmavati, not only doesn’t deglamourise the Rajputs, in fact it does the very opposite.

After watching Padmaavat, Karni Sena says it “glorifies Rajputs”, and therefore it has withdrawn its year-long protest that hogged the national headlines for an unjustifiably long period of time.



If there was an anti-climax, this was it. The baselessness of the Karni Sena violence, premised on imagined insult to a fictional queen and the mythological valour of a particular caste, couldn’t be pegged on a more unsuitable film. Because if there were a work of modern imagination that actually fanned the flame of Karni Sena’s idealised self-depiction of Rajput history and folklore, it is Padmaavat.

With Deepika Padukone playing the fictional queen, Shahid Kapoor the brave Hindu Rajput king and Ranveer Singh essaying the demented role of an Oriental despot in Alauddin Khilji, the cast and characterisation and plot and tone and tenor and special effects and visuals and sound-track and choreography – everything led up to their dream boat of a glorified Rajput community, forever safeguarding the self-certified honour, despite losing in head count, strategy, war and peace.

What Karni Sena wanted, Padmaavat was delivering anyway. Yet, Karni Sena wanted more. More national headlines, more demands, more narratives around Rajput valour, more Islamophobia, more Muslim-bashing, more misogyny, more glorification of outlawed practices like Sati and jauhar, more control on the female body, more open threats of violence reaching not only the male Muslim in contemporary India, but also the Hindu female celebrity in Padukone.


With headlines screaming “bounty on Bhansali’s head” and “chop off Deepika’s nose”, the sentimental projection of a historically privileged upper caste honour in peril was complete.

As Karni Sena acted like the B-team of the ruling BJP in states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, as chief ministers like Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vijay Rupani, ML Khattar, among others spoke in favour of banning the film that supposedly hurt Rajput sentiments in an election-bound year, no semblance of law and order remained, neither was it prioritised.

Karni Sena was allowed to terrorise people at will, set properties to fire, burn down cinema halls in Gujarat, and even outrage newsanchors on national television.

With 79 cuts, a delayed release and rows with the censor board and the government, Padmaavat became the only story to come out of India, eclipsing many other stories, until the Gujarat elections were over.

However, a forward, historically well-off caste got to latch on to the hurt sentiments bandwagon, and demand more cultural capital, more eyeballs, more conversation at a time when jostling for narrative space and economic handouts has become a tried and tested strategy among the increasingly insecure upper castes such as Gujjars, Patidars, Jats, etc.


Karni Sena leaders like Suraj Pal Amu and Lokendra Kalvi have become national sensations in a threatening way, even as the group’s desperation reached an ugly crescendo when a school bus in Gurgaon was attacked, imperiling children.

That turned the tide somewhat. What kind of honour allowed the protestors to attack kids, many asked, appalled, disgusted. But the cycle of violence came to a halt only after the film was released at last on January 25, to much critical disdain


Bhansali’s Padmavaat was, expectedly, found to be a technologically dazzling work of regression. The cartoonesque dialogues, the tin-pot characterisation of ridiculous binaries, the Good Hindu versus Terrible Muslim stereotype, the internal civilisation versus invading anarchy false duality – every element in the film screamed out loud for Karni Sena’s undiluted adulation, hurt at being misunderstood, as it were.

This was Karni Sena’s wet dream, distilled and decked up to dazzling ends. This was what Karni Sena had been burning private properties and assaulting individuals to assert, provided on a spectacular platter of cinematic grandeur.

The difference between fiction and history, myth and facts, politicised revision and objective retelling was blurred, both in the film and in Karni Sena’s conduct. The lost privilege was somewhat taken back, at a time when equality feels like oppression to India’s upper caste vanguards of honour.

With the conversation menacingly justifying mass female immolation at a time when India has lost out 63 million women to female foeticide and other systemic neglects, is only one indication of how unpardonable violence has crept into our national psyche, how the unacceptable has now been gentrified into social media trends and hashtags. 

As it has been astutely observed, Padmaavat was just a convenient peg for Karni Sena to hang its caste insecurities ​on. There will be more Padmaavats in times to come, especially in and around election time in an India witnessing identity fault lines hardening like never before.

Last updated: February 05, 2018 | 20:02
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