Why is everyone making a big deal about jauhar?

Just as a warrior, or a spy, or a fugitive chooses to die than fall in enemy's hands, it is the same spirit that drove women to self-immolation.

 |  -minute read |   06-02-2018
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Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat has brought into focus jauhar, a practice long abandoned. A mighty debate has been raging over whether this practice of self-immolation by Hindu women instead of falling into the hands of the enemy to be enslaved or raped and killed was a correct approach then, and can it be justified today?

Jauhar is not the only form of suicide to save one's honour. It is confined to women, but killing oneself to escape a fate worse than death is one of the well-accepted practices from ancient times to modern era among individuals, terrorists, freedom fighters and armies. Movies and TV serials have been depicting it too often.

Dying on one's own terms, in a dignified manner and if possible, surrounded by loved ones, has been always the option for many as preferred to capture, imminent death, enslavement, grisly execution, rape and public humiliation.

It is driven by strong self-ethics: Why to let the enemy decide my fate? And examples of such executions are many.

Indian freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad preferred to shoot himself dead than getting arrested by the British.

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Many cultures have since time immemorial glorified death to surrender. It could be martyrdom or suicide, denying the enemy a right to kill or humiliate.

Romans killed themselves to avoid torturous and humiliating executions. It demonstrated their stoicism. Emperor Otho was considered "soft" until he committed suicide to escape assassination that made him a hero.

In Ranthambore, king Hammira rejected the offer of a compromise from Alauddin Khilji. One story says he refused to return Khilji's deserters, another says Khilji wanted him to accept his subjugation just for a token of Re 1. Hammira opted for a suicidal war instead. Some say he was ultimately killed in battle, others say he killed himself in the face of certain defeat and yet another viewpoint says that he killed himself as he regretted his decision to go to war when he saw women committing jauhar on his return to the fort one day.

There have been mass suicides to save one from the enemy. Soldiers do get into suicidal mode taking on enemy choosing enemy's bullet than being captured and this is called martyrdom.  Japanese soldiers practised it through Seppuku or Harakiri.

Twenty-year-old British citizen Ryan Lock joined Kurdish forces to take on the ISIS and killed himself to avoid falling  hostage to the enemy, robbing the ISIS  of its macabre propaganda.

During the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, thousands of Japanese villagers committed suicide, including by running off a cliff and using grenades that their soldiers gave them. They were scared to an extent by stories of the brutality of the American soldiers often conveyed by Japanese soldiers that they chose to die than being held captive.

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LTTE cadres chose death through cyanide capsules. Sivarasan, Subha and five others consumed cyanide instead of falling into the hands of  the police out to capture them for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination when holed up in a house.

Movies have often depicted heroes sacrificing themselves facing a volley of bullets deliberately to save someone else. Even villains have been shown committing suicide to escape arrest.

Independence Day showed Russell Casse piloting his aircraft right into the alien ship. In Dhoom, John Abraham opted for self-inflicted death instead of an arrest by Abhishek Bachchan.

Australian most popular bush ballad Waltzing Matilda narrates a story of a swagman who captured a stray jumbuck to eat, but commits suicide than to let be captured by its owner, a squatter and three mounted policemen.

Christians were looked down by Romans as Muslim invaders were by Rajputs for accepting fates worse than death instead of killing oneself.

That is why Alexander captured Porus to let him off honourably when latter asked for being treated like a king.

In contrast, invader Mohamud Gauri forgot how he was let go alive by Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Hindu king of Delhi, and instead captured Chauhan only to humiliate him publicly having tortured and blinded him.

Yet, the fact that he lived on to kill Gauri one day reminding us that sometimes, being alive in whatever condition is better than a quick self-inflicted death. After seeking revenge, Chauhan and his court poet Chand Bardai killed each other in a suicide pact.

In recent history, Boris Pugo, Soviet interior minister and a member of Gang of Eight that overthrew Mikhail Gorbachev, committed suicide fearing repercussions in the hands of Russian government after the 1991 coup collapsed. Other plotters were all granted amnesty later and went on to play various roles in post-communist Russia.

Yet those who live by the sword, have a right to die by (his own) sword. Call it jauhar or by any other name. It does speak of certain ethos and character.

Also read: Watching Padmaavat in Pakistan: Why it did not leave me reduced just to a vagina

Writer

Rohit Parihar Rohit Parihar @rohit0

The writer is Senior Editor, India Today. He is based in Jaipur.

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