The stance of the Supreme Court to dismiss once again the plea to ban the movie Padmaavat directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, elates those who believe in democracy and freedom of expression.
The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments and the Rajput outfit Karni Sena that leads the direct protests and violence against the release of the movie, had approached the Supreme Court seeking a review of its January 18 order. The court which rejected the plea reacted sharply on the matter: The apex court verdict pertaining to the movie is in force; all are responsible to abide by the order; it is not proper for the states to demand a ban on the movie citing law and order problems; it is the obligation of the states to maintain law and order; they should follow the order- the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud made it clear leaving no room for any doubt. The law and order issues were cited in paragraph 9 of the petition submitted on behalf of the state governments. Justice Chandrachud reacted sternly towards the statements in the paragraph. At one point when he asked about the intent of that paragraph, the lawyer who appeared on behalf of the petitioners was compelled to say that the court should ignore the paragraph and move on to larger issues. ‘If the paragraph does not exist, your application also does not exist’, replied Justice Chandrachud. That is, the Supreme Court verdict in reality, is a strong warning against the stance of the political leadership that ignores the Constitutional values and responsibilities of the government, and of succumbing to the threats of a few people of unleashing violence in the country.
The film Padmaavat produced on a budget of Rs 200 crore has been mired in several controversies by this time. The movie that was to be released on December 1, 2017 as per the schedule, is being released today after passing through protests and legal procedures. The movie which was initially titled Padmavati, even changed its title to Padmaavat following the demonstrations and the intervention of the Censor Board. Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the country’s top censoring body, certified the movie in December 2017 after several suggestions for modification. It is the right of the producers to showcase the film once they obtain the clearance from the CBFC. However, the Rajput fringe outfit Karni Sena organized rampant protests and unleashed violence against the release of the movie citing that it contains some sections that hurt their sentiments and distort history. Most of the protests took place in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where the BJP is in power. These demonstrations had the implicit support of the BJP which is the ruling party. That is how the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments approached the Supreme Court with a review petition seeking a ban on the film. It is bizarre that the state governments approached the court seeking a ban fearing the protests.
Although the Supreme Court has unambiguously upheld the rights of the producers to screen the film, Karni Sena has reacted publicly that it will block the film through 'people's curfew'. Although the film is set for release today, in many north Indian states street attacks have started two days ahead of that. Widespread violence were reported against the multiplex theatres likely to show the film in Ahmedabad. Such protests and violence are likely to spread further. It would be meaningless to expect the BJP governments which will be unwilling to displease the powerful uppper caste organizations, to take any step to stop such attacks. Ever since the Modi government came to being, there has been a trend of such mob violence enjoying official backing. It is in these circumstances that those who make murderous clamour against Padmaavat draw morale. In times when mob and caste demagogues define and enforce law, the Supreme Court order comes as a relief upholding democracy and rule of law. We have to wait and see, to what extent the far an atmoshere will be created to follow the spirit of that verdict and to screen the film.