HISTORY AND COMMUNITY HONOR: Protests against film Jodha Akbar

Ram Puniyani


Disruption of the screening of film Jodha Akbar. Sections of Rajput community claims that this film insults their community honor. Some Governments banned this film, which was lifted by the courts. The film shows many a trends and patterns of the time, Akbar’s policy towards those following other faiths, his alliances with Rajputs and the development of Mughal Rajput syncretism. The communal historiography which understands the history through the prism of religion has been brought in strongly by the RSS combine and it presents the Mughal period as the dark period of Indian history.


Last month (Jan 2008), one has witnessed the acts of breaking glass panes, disrupting the screening of film Jodha Akbar, as a part of protests by sections of Rajput and Kshatriya community against this film.  They claim that this film insults their community honor! Some Governments banned this film, the ban which eventually was lifted by the courts.


The arguments of those opposing the film are on the overt ground that film is not historically accurate, as per them Jodha was Akbar’s daughter in law not his wife. Many have powerfully asserted that the film is a dishonor to ‘our’ daughters and daughter in laws. As such the film is made on the backdrop of the life and times of Akbar, regarded by Amartya Sen as one of the two great emperors who happened to rule India. The film shows many a trends and patterns of the time, Akbar’s policy towards those following other faiths, his alliances with Rajputs and the development of Mughal Rajput syncretism. In addition it also portrays him as the ruler having great respect for other prevalent religious tradition here, Hinduism.


It is not that the theme of Akbar-Jodha is being presented on the screen for the first time. The perception about Akbar-Jodha relationship has been immortalized by the all time by the classic film Mughal-e-Azam, whose primary focus was on love breaking the social hierarchies of master and slave. It incidentally showed Jodha-Akbar relationship also. The film was well received at that time and was a big hit all around. So why are there protests against it at this point of time? During the last few decades the identity based politics and communal historiography has gripped the society. The rise of right wing politics all over the globe and here at home has given a serious set back to the concept of intercommunity harmony. The process of narrow identities getting dwarfed by the national and global identities has also faced a severe jolt. Currently the narrow, caste, religion identities are asserting up strongly.


The communal historiography which understands the history through the prism of religion has been brought in strongly by the RSS combine and it presents the Mughal period as the dark period of Indian history, depicting Muslim kings in the total negative light, as tyrants, as the one’s destroying temples, forcing conversions and violating the honor of the Hindu women.  This film successfully breaks that mould brought in by communal ideology and poses a challenge to the edifice on which their politics is based.


In communal view of society the community honor is located in the bodies of women, ‘our’ women are to be protected from others and ‘their’ women are to be dishonored as a revenge of ‘their’ violating the honor of our women. This was seen in the Hindutva ideologues Savarkar’s criticism of Shivaji. Shivaji had sent back the daughter-in-law of the Muslim Subedar of Kalyan, who was brought as a ‘gift’ to him, with full honors. Savarkar says that Shivaji as a true Hindu should have taken revenge by dishonoring that woman.


The armies and the kings were plundering the wealth and women in medieval times. Armies doing the same, even today is being witnessed at various places. Also there were matrimonial alliances between kings across the borders of religion and nationality, like Chandragupta Maurya marrying the daughter of Macedonian king, Samudragupta allying with daughters of many kings with whom he had political battles. So the overall tenor of the film is very much in tune with the spirit of the times being portrayed. The unsaid and unstated part of the protests is the discomfort due to the portrayal of phenomenon of Hindu princess marrying and then falling in love with a Muslim king! That’s where the catch lies. Under the pressure from current communal atmosphere, one observes that in the films currently being made, the ones’ dealing with the Hindu Muslim love, the girl is generally Muslim and boy a Hindu e.g., Veer zara, Gadar, Bombay and Henna. It is another matter that Muslim fundamentalists do raise their voice of protests in such cases.


History is a vast ocean of events. History is an arena, which has been interpreted by the elements according to their political agendas. In the film under discussion it is sure that there was matrimonial alliance between Mughal kings and Rajput princesses, it is sure that Akbar did have Rajput wife/wives. It is also sure that the interaction of Hindu Muslim, Mughal Rajput cultures peaked in the times of Akbar and did maintain its tempo later also irrespective of the ruling kings being fanatic or tolerant. As such this film comes as a refreshing interpretation, very much needed in current times.


As such some of those presenting the past have been using history with two major fallacies. The first one relates to selection of the events for treatment. The demolition of temples by Mughal kings is taken up and their donations to Hindu temples are suppressed from the narratives. The real reason for temple destruction was for wealth and also it was symbol of victory. The communal narratives describe it in a way whereby a material phenomenon is presented as exclusively religious one. Similarly to force conversions of defeated kings/army, as an insult to the defeated one, is highlighted as a religious phenomenon not related to power equation. The amity between religions, as presented in Bhakti and Sufi traditions is bypassed. The harmony between religious communities is hidden and conflict between kings of different religions presented as clash between religions.


Interestingly the fundamentalist coming from both religions are uncomfortable with syncretic traditions and look down upon it. So the Maulana will tell that the Islam of Sufi tradition is not the real Islam and a Pandit will assert that Hinduism which absorbs things from Islam, the one of Bhakti, is not true Hinduism.


The second distortion pertains to the motivated interpretation for political purposes. The History introduced by British, communal historiography, was aimed to divide and rule so British propagated a view of History whereby Muslim Kings were demonized. While picking up this thread the novel, Somanath, by Kanhaiyalal Manikchand Munshi, played a major role in demonizing Mahmud Ghazni and Muslims. It presented his forays to loot the temple as the one motivated by religious purpose alone, as an insult to Hindu religion.


Currently two such examples can be seen. One is the play Jaanata Raja on Shivaji, which presents Shivaji as the one bent to build a Hindu empire in opposition to the Mughal Empire. This creates again a severe communal mind set, as the battles of Shivaji against Hindu kings are bypassed and the whole effort of his comes forward as an enterprise to build a Hindu kingdom, demonizing Muslims in the process. In another genre is the play “Mee Nathuram Boltoy”, (This is Nathuram speaking), a play about the murder of Gandhi, by trained RSS Pracharak (Preacher) Nathuram Godse. Here again Gandhi’s nationalism, secular democratic one, is shown as bane of Hindu nation and Gandhi’s ‘appeasement’ of Muslims is presented as the reason behind killing him.


History seems to be a multi edged phenomenon. On one hand we have events, and on the other interpretation. Which events to select and how to present them is what a historian does. As noted Historian E.H.Carr points out same fish can be cooked in different ways depending on the skills of the cook and nature of spices used. The issue is not that whether Jodha was wife or daughter in law of Akbar, the issue is in identity based politics of current times, a Hindu woman’s love or marriage to a Muslim is not acceptable. The same applies to the similar event of the past, as past is being given the life in present. The fact is that the film shows Akbar as humane, considerate, tolerant etc., totally contrasting the view of Muslims being propagated by RSS combine, so it cannot pass.


One wishes such humane and tolerant look at history should not only be upheld but also propagated far and wide. That’s the only way to integrate the nation, and human society far that matter. (Issues in Secular Politics, [March 2008:  ram.puniyani@gmail.com]

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