Andrew Korybko |
Riots have broken out in India over the release of a controversial film.
The Bollywood spectacle “Padmaavat” was scandalously reported to feature a love scene between the fabled Hindu queen Padmavati and a Muslim conqueror, something that the directors always denied but which nonetheless incensed Hindu hardliners over the past couple of months. As the movie approached its official release date, riotous mobs wreaked havoc in parts of the country in an effort to intimidate cinemas from showing the film and scare people away from seeing it. Some women threatened to commit collective suicide if it wasn’t banned, and so-called “protesters” even attacked a school bus full of children in one shocking incident. A member of the ruling BJP also announced a bounty for anyone who would behead the main actress, though he was later detained.
“Clash of civilizations” between Hinduism and Islam and represents a Damocles’ Sword hanging over the heads of the more than one billion people inhabiting the subcontinent.
Hindutva followers claim that “Padmaavat” is disrespectful to the woman that some of them worship as an actual deity, with or without the inclusion of the fake news love scene, while critics say that India is supposed to be the “world’s largest democracy” and that filmmakers should therefore be able to make whatever movies they want. Moreover, they deny that there’s anything controversial about how Padmavati is portrayed. The uproar that this movie is already responsible for has raised concerns about India’s growing religious extremism among its Hindu majority population and the violent enforcement of ultra-fundamentalist precepts in the constitutionally secular state. It also comes on the heels of large-scale caste violence in the western economic capital of Mumbai that instantly triggered questions about the veracity of India’s claims over the years that its social situation was improving.
Most disturbing, however, is that the driving force behind the movie-related unrest is the debunked claim that it features a Hindu woman copulating with a Muslim man, as inter-confessional relationships are increasingly becoming taboo in today’s India due to the Hindutva paranoia that they constitute something referred to as “love jihad”, or the conspiracy theory that Muslim men are tricking Hindu women to convert to Islam out of love. With this backdrop in mind, the pandemonium surrounding “Padmaavat” can be understood as a veiled manifestation of anti-Muslim rage, though that’s not to say that some pious Hindus aren’t protesting the film for legitimate reasons unrelated to Islam and focused on what they believe to be an overall unfair portrayal of their goddess.
It also comes on the heels of large-scale caste violence in the western economic capital of Mumbai that instantly triggered questions about the veracity of India’s claims over the years that its social situation was improving.
In terms of the bigger picture, the controversy that this movie created is proof that India is in the throes of a massive “culture war” between religious fundamentalists and constitutional secularists, one which has larger overtones of a so-called “clash of civilizations” between Hinduism and Islam and represents a Damocles’ Sword hanging over the heads of the more than one billion people inhabiting the subcontinent.
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