As news of the Padmavati sets coming under attack by members of the Karni Sena emerged, people flew into a debate about whether it was right of Sanjay Leela Bhansali to protray a romantic angle between queen Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji. A quick glimpse of Twitter will show heated arguments on both sides, ranging from, “Rani #Padmavati who did #Jauhar, made to romance Alauddin Khilji? #SanjayLeelaBhansali must thank his stars, Rajputs let him get away so easy,” to, “People should be held accountable for this shameful act. Horrified by what happened to #SanjayLeelaBhansali #Padmavati sets.” Of course, the debate here isn’t about whether Bhansali has an anti-Hindu agenda or whether he’s within his rights to distort historical records – this can be argued until Bhansali and the rest of the Padmavati cast grows old and still reach no solid conclusion. The fight lying underneath the issue is whether it’s okay for the the person with the biggest stick to make the law.
People who expect Hindus to ‘lighten up’ aren’t entirely correct. Hindus, whose religious sentiments got hurt by the idea of their queen romancing the Muslim ruler, have every right to be upset – that is, after all, what democracy and freedom of expression is about, and that isn’t what should be curbed. What does need to be curbed is the manner in which it was expressed. Even though Twitter users who condemned the Padmavati plot drew flak, you have to appreciate that they were voicing their opinion through a medium that doesn’t leave a man frightened for his life.
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In cases of religion and freedom of expression, there is never any right answer. Right-wing and left-wing people can get equally volatile about their opinions, but it is how these opinions are expressed that differentiates a public discourse from gunda raj. While Bhansali’s attack is regrettable, the incident is more a symbol of a rather frightening future of the country if such acts go unpunished. It no longer becomes about right or wrong – it simply becomes about who has more brute force.