To the surprise of students taking an important exam, Deepika Padukone starrer Padmavati, the character at the centre of the controversy over the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, has now been included in a question in the MA second-year history paper of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), as have questions on triple talaq. History students of the university have claimed that they were asked to answer a question on “Rani Padmavati’s Johar” for 10 marks about three weeks back in the third-semester exam.
The question that was asked read: “What do you mean by Johor tradition? Describe Rani Padmavati’s Johar in the period of Alauddin Khilji.” A student of History said he had studied the tradition of johar, a custom, under which Hindu women self-immolated to avoid capture, and enslavement after defeat in a war, as it was in the syllabus. However, Padmavati was referred in passing as a matter of debate between historians in the chapter on johar. “We had read a small portion on Padmavati but the fact of her existence is debated among historians. Our professor stressed it as an important part only because it was in the news over the Deepika Padukone film,” an MA history student said.
A number of modern historians have rejected the historicity of the Padmavati legend. Amir Khusrau, the court poet of Khilji, who accompanied him during the king’s invasion of Chittor in 1303, did not mention anything on Rani Padmini (purportedly her real name) or a jauhar at Chittor in his accounts of the attack, although he wrote of johar in his account of Alauddin’s conquest of Ranthambhore just before the attack on Chittor. Padmini first finds mention in the Padmavat, a poem written in Awadhi by the 16th century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 — over two centuries after Khilji’s Chittor campaign.
Rajeev Kumar Srivastava, assistant professor of Society and Culture in Medieval India at BHU said, “If Alauddin Khilji has any truth, so does Padmavati… We have been teaching the condition of women during Alauddin Khilji’s reign every year. Padmavati was taught irrespective of any political controversy brewing currently. The Babri Masjid issue is also raging, does that mean we will stop teaching Babur?” he said.
When asked about the question on triple talaq, a student said, “There was nothing on triple talaq in our Medieval India studies syllabus. But sir held a special class on it. That is how we managed to answer the question. The class was part of a lesson on the wretched condition of women, especially Hindus, during the rule of Delhi sultans.”