The message that goes out is clear and frightening. That breaking the law, violence and vandalism earns you the right to impose your intolerant views on subjects over which you have no jurisdiction.
On a day when the sets of the film Padmavati was attacked in Kolhapur, Rajasthan social justice and empowerment minister Arun Chaturvedi has said the film would be screened before a committee of the Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) and “other knowledgeable members of society” and their objections invited before the film was released in the state. In January, the SRKS had attacked filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and destroyed his film set while shooting at Jaigarh Fort. Now that the sets have been attacked again in Kolhapur, the police have come up with an odd explanation — Bhansali had asked for police protection during the day but at night the sets were unguarded and so vulnerable.
The SRKS’ depredations do not stop here. On March 5, they destroyed two mirrors at Chittorgarh Fort, a Unesco world heritage site, on account of the fact that according to legend, Alauddin Khilji was shown Rani Padmini’s face in these.
Mr Chaturvedi, an elected representative and law maker, is colluding with vandals in order to uphold some mythical customs and traditions. The SKRS and other Hindutva groups have no locus standi on what contents a film can have or to impose conditions on its screening. That is the job of the censor board.
What Mr Chaturvedi is doing is legitimising and condoning violence, indeed rewarding it by allowing these extraneous forces to decide on what films should be made and what people can watch. This official sanction will embolden other groups to exert more demands.
Across the country, we see intolerance towards anyone who goes against what the custodians of tradition decree. We see fatwas against a young Muslim girl singing against terrorism, another Muslim girl singing Hindu devotional songs, and Hindutva groups going on the rampage for perceived insults to culture and religious beliefs. None of this should be tolerated in a democratic society where everyone has the right to express themselves in any way they please as long as they do not violate the law.
If today, the SRKS and other groups can sit in judgement on a film, tomorrow they will extend their remit to other areas. We now have the moral police deciding what women should wear, what we should eat and read and what festivals we should not celebrate.
The Rajasthan government must come out strongly condemning Mr Chaturvedi and make it clear that no one other than legitimately appointed bodies will decide on what films can be shown in the state.