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There is no call to justify or glorify the outlawed practice of sati

That a commercial film with no pretensions to accuracy is being held to ransom for not sticking to the “facts” of Rajput mythology is itself a thing that beggars belief; but what is worse is the glorification of the act of jauhar, and by extension of the outlawed practice of sati by politicians

opinion Updated: Nov 21, 2017 16:09 IST
Vidya Subramanian
Vidya Subramanian
Hindustan Times
Padmavati,Rajput protest,Padmavati protests
Members of the Rajput community shout slogans as they protest against the release of the film Padmavati (AP)

As the noise around the as-yet unreleased film Padmavati gets shriller and shriller, there is a particularly dangerous school of thought that is getting more and more traction. It’s a bit under the radar, but its potency is growing so much so that eminent politicians are beginning to voice it openly. While the word ‘sati’ has not yet been uttered in the same sentence as the ‘great and glorious’ traditions of Rajasthan; the glorification of mass immolation by Rajput queens in the context of the film is becoming de rigueur.

Jauhar was the tradition in certain sections of Hindu society where the women of a kingdom, led by the queen, chose death by immolation to avoid capture and rape in the face of certain defeat at the hands of an enemy — invariably a Muslim king. The presumption being that the queen and the other women have kept their “honour” intact by dying rather than being captured, raped or otherwise overpowered by the invading king. The male counterpart to jauhar is saka, in which the defeated men ritually march into the battlefield certain of death.

Chief ministers, including Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath, have either refused to let the film be released or asked for punitive action against the director of the movie ostensibly for “hurting the sentiments” of the people. That a commercial film with no pretensions to accuracy is being held to ransom for not sticking to the “facts” of Rajput mythology is itself a thing that beggars belief; but what is worse is the glorification of the act of jauhar, and by extension of the outlawed practice of Sati.

Padmavati’s jauhar, whose oldest mention comes in Malik Mohammad Jayasi’s fictional Padmavat, is the most famous episode of mass immolation in Rajput history. Makers of the film Padmavati and their supporters have repeatedly tried to convince protestors that the film only serves to glorify Rani Padmavati and what is constantly being called her “act of courage”; but to no avail. The sentiments of certain men, it would seem, can only be assuaged by ascribing to female characters in cinema standards of chastity and honour that only they are allowed to prescribe....unless of course, the gratuitous objectification of these female characters is for their own joy and titillation.

Justifying and glorifying self immolation by women to preserve their “honour” is tantamount to praising the condemnable practices of sati. The insidious argument here is that an “honourable” woman should choose death when she loses her ‘protector’ – the king, the husband, etc – instead of taking the chance of surviving capture or rape. Not only does this presume that a woman has no existence or identity independent of a man, but also that the honour of the man (or kingdom or country) can be preserved by preventing the capture of “their” women by “other” men.

Politicians would do well to remember that the practice of sati is seen as violative of a women’s right to her own body (and her own life!) The custom, has been outlawed for the very reason that it justifies a horrible act of violence against women. Like the condemnable practices of child marriage and dowry, sati too is a vestige of a bygone violent era and can have no place in a civilised modern society.

@vidyas42

First Published: Nov 21, 2017 15:34 IST