After a lot of protest, threat mongering, some violence and vandalism, Padmavati was finally released in UP, Haryana and rest of India. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh film was not released. States where movie was released saw footfall of viewers. So much so, in the first week of release, film is believed to have grossed 149 crore rupees.
Despite popular appreciation, the film still faced attack. This time from a member of film fraternity. Ms. Swara Bhaskar, known for her left leaning feminist outlook, wrote a very scathing letter to Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Ms. Bhaskar described the film to be regressive, a film that glorifies jauhar and Ms. Bhaskar felt she was reduced to a vagina. In the furious debate that followed, many supporters of Ms. Bhaskar’s point of view also argued that glorification of jauhar indicates a patriarchal mindset. A woman is being denied her right to life after being raped by a man. By glorifying jauhar, we are potraying women to be weak who were not courageous enough to be captured and tortured.
While Ms. Bhaskar is entitled to her opinion. Was Ms. Bhaskar angry at escapades and infatuation of Alauddin Khilji with women or was she angry with Bhansali that he had shown jauhar? It is important to understand that Mr. Bhansali is telling a story. If the story writer claims a lead character embraced fire to protect her honor, Mr. Bhansali cannot change the story line.
I think, there is some confusion between jauhar, sati and rape. It must be clarified that jauhar used to happen in medeval India. Rajput women would jump into fire to avoid being captured by invading army. When a decision to commit jauhar is made, most likely no male member of woman’s family is alive. Woman risked being captured and used as sex slave in the harem of conqueror. As per historical documents several jauhars had happened at Chittor and Ranthambhor royal families in 14th and 16th centuries. There might have been a few other jauhars in other parts of India.
It will be unfair to brand ladies committing themselves to Jauhar as cowards. It would take a lot of courage for anyone to walk or jump into blazing fire. Compared to Jauhar, it may be much easier to submit to your conquerors. Many others had chosen to do the same.
In contrast to jauhar, sati used to be a practice where a woman would join her husband in funeral pyre. In many cases, relatives of the woman used to persuade her to commit sati to grab her family property and wealth. Raja Ram Mohar Roy had fought agains thte practice of sati. The practice was made into a criminal offence during British rule. In modern India it is a crime to practice sati.
While sati can be said to be coercive, jauhar used to be a self made decision. Question remains was it a right decision? Should a woman not chose to live rather than embracing fire? I think, every individual should have right to end his or life at a point when it is felt death is better than living a life of dishonor. A similar debate also happened to free Ms Aruna Shanbhag from her body, that was in a state of coma for nearly three decades. Indian laws do not permit mercy killing, but a few mature democracies in the world allow mercy killing. In ancient India people at a certain stage in life will renounce society and live a life of ascetic and wait for death. Even today members of Jain community embrace death voluntarily. At the end of the day it is my life, I should have some say how I live and if I do not want to live. It may be difficult to understand psychology of people in medieval India using standards of 21st century.